UDHR AT 70 & UN NGOs

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AT 70 & UN NGOs
by 
Harvey TORDOFF

It is 70 years this month since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became enshrined in the conscience of the world.  In human terms, it is a life-time.  Has it been a life well lived, and can we now sit in our rocking chairs content in the knowledge that we have achieved our goal?
Progress has been made, of which we can be proud, but no-one can believe that there is no more to be done.  There are still far too many places in the world where systematic abuses of these fundamental rights take place in the name of culture, religion and politics.  Wars have continued throughout the last 70 years.

There is too much poverty.  There are indecent extremes of obesity and malnutrition.  Basic healthcare is not available to all.  Furthermore, there is a growing trend for nations to become more protectionist, to close their borders against unwanted refugees and to raise tariffs against imported goods.  And as Climate Change continues unchecked, the world is likely to see ever-greater numbers of refugees fleeing from rising sea-levels, sea surges, tsunamis and desertification.   Where will those people be welcomed?  How are those people to be granted their human rights?

The UN now consists of 193 member states and it has clear objectives.  Why, then, has it not been more effective?  Perhaps more than any other single reason it is because member states have to balance global action with domestic priorities.  There is an old saying: “Charity begins at home”.

So is there a way in which the UN can draw on support that is not impeded by nationalistic protectionism?  In 1953 Eleanor Roosevelt, the champion of the UDHR, posed a question: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?”

She answered her own question. “In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they ARE the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger word.”

Those small places, close to home, are under increasing threat from hardening attitudes encouraged by sensationalist social media.  Divisions in society are becoming deeper and wider.  Disillusionment with elected politicians and the social status quo is leading to discontent and protest – sometimes violent. 

This disillusionment means that the individual has less time to be concerned about problems elsewhere.  And blanket media exposure of famines and civil wars and fleeing refugees inures us as to the very real human tragedy we are witnessing.  The problem is exacerbated because the same tragedies keep replaying themselves.  We are left feeling that whatever support we have given has been wasted.  We need to be more proactive.  Hopefully we will always respond to crises, but more effort should be put into averting disasters. 

And so the individual and his government are becoming unreliable partners in the fight for UDHR, but there is one source of support that the UN could draw on: the charities and philanthropic foundations that are collectively referred to as Non Government Organisations and who work across boundaries and frontiers.  The UN should harness the power of these NGOs to direct coordinated and concerted efforts into education and the dissemination of information that will allow more communities to help themselves. 

In another 70 years the world will be a different place.  It is up to us to make sure it is a better place.

HT/2018_12_12

– Posted on December 15,  2018.

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