The veneer of civilization is paper-thin, we are its guardians and we can never rest.
- Tom Lantos
The only holocaust survivor to be elected to the U.S. Congress, the late Tom Lantos was a reliable champion for Human Rights. In addition to his tireless work in the U.S. House, each year, on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights (UDHR), Congressman Lantos would speak at the UN. The quote above is from the prepared remarks he would have delivered the year he died.
Today is International Human Rights Day. Observing this day requires a hard look at the state of human rights in the world. It is not hard to see many places where the 'veneer of civilization' has been torn apart by brutal crimes. The suffering in Darfur has not been addressed. The people of Afghanistan still live in squalor under the constant threat of violence. More than half of the world's population is too poor to attain the "standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family" as declared a basic human right in Article 25 of the UDHR.
Here in the United States, glaring violations of UDHR Articles 6 - 11 exist in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Force Base. To wit:
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
International Human Rights Day is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to Human Rights around the world and in our own country. Today - there are two things we all can do to be faithful guardians of Human Rights.
1. Sign the Human Rights First petition to Close GITMO, and thereby stay in the loop an consistently speak out in defense of human rights.
61 years ago today, the United States, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, played a central role in achieving the greatest declaration of hope the Human Race has ever achieved. The UDHR sets a bold course to a world as it should be. To the extent that we can put human rights first in our politics, our economy, and our pursuit of global and national security, we shall contribute to the advancement of humanity in the world.
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