Saturday, December 10, 2016

Honoring International Human Rights Day

Yes, today is the anniversary (68th anniversary, to be specific) of International Human Rights Day. It was on this day 68 years ago that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, back in 1948. 

Of course, that was in the aftermath of a truly terrible and devastating war - the deadliest war that humanity ever witnessed, and that's saying something!

Indeed, the war was fought mostly in Asia and Europe, although it also spread to other places and certainly involved other countries, including Africa, North and South America, and Australia. During the war, there were unprecedented crimes committed against masses of people, and there was generally deprivation across the board in the main countries involved. At the end of the war, numerous countries that had been among the most powerful in the world found themselves on their knees, with their cities in rubble, and in some cases, their reputations even more damaged. More than sixty million people died, and many more suffered tremendously. The war left all who lived through it scarred  it affected everyone in the countries and areas involved, it altered maps with swift border changes, and the level of atrocities and horrors was unparalleled in human history.

At the end, people were exhausted, and there was a renewed attempt to make serious efforts to ensure that such complete and utter devastation would not happen again.

What is sad, however, is that those lessons were not learned all that well. Today, the United Nations resembles the League of Nations that preceded it more than ever. There have been similar atrocities that have taken place in Nigeria in the 1960's, in Cambodia in the 1970's, severe famines in the 1980's, mass genocides and ethnic cleansing in the 1990's in Eastern Europe and in Rwanda and in Sudan in the 2000's. And still today, we have the largest migrant crisis since World War II with the situation that is going on in Syria, and we have what appears to be another incident of ethnic cleansing developing in South Sudan, and let's face it: time and again, the United Nations has appeared weak and powerless to do anything about many of these situations.

Yet, it is more than that. During the years of George W. Bush, particularly in the lead-up to the ridiculous invasion of Iraq, there was active mockery of the United Nations, and the first real sentiments of suspicion and ridicule of it. Some felt that the United Nations was a serious threat to invade the United States, a threat to the very sovereignty of this nation, and some began to actively advocate withdrawing from it. President Bush mocked the world's opposition to the invasion, particularly through the United Nations, and outright said that the United States did not need a "permission slip" from the UN in order to invade Iraq. Nowadays, we see still more skepticism of the United Nations, with some Americans going as far as to suggest that armies were just standing by and waiting to take over, and that the climate change "theory" was probably the justification that will be used for this takeover. With Donald Trump now having been elected to the highest office, and with his disdain for both the climate change "theory" and the United Nations (he has threatened to take away funding from it), as well as his erratic and unpredictable behavior, we seem to be in a more volatile position these days than we have been, arguably, since World War II.

Nor is it just the United States were things seem to be going crazy. Russia became the first country to invade another sovereign nation just a couple of years ago, and then to annex the territory it gained militarily, even after a highly suspect plebescite that supposedly showed that a vast majority of the people in Crimea wanted to leave the Ukraine in favor of rejoining Russia. This, and the west's generally passive response, seemed to have emboldened Vladimir Putin's position in Russia, and he appears to want still more. There are other countries in Europe where populist, nationalist movements are gaining traction, and there was the Brexit vote earlier this year. Italy just voted against proposed constitutional reforms that would have brought it more in line with the rest of the European Union, and many are viewing this as the first real stirrings of anti-EU sentiment in Italy. Other countries may follow. And there have been extremists in high political office in some countries of Eastern Europe - particularly Hungary. A militant appears to be in control in Japan, and there are signs that an arms race may be developing in Asia, as other neighbors of China have grown nervous with that country's increasing tendency to exert it's own influence in the region and in the world. In the Middle East, it seems that there are just a ton of countries that lack stability, and where a fundamentalist version of Islam threatens to take over, often with links to terrorism. There is similar instability in numerous African countries, as well.

If you throw the instability of a growing world population, with mass migrations and controversies ensuing over this immigration, mixed with the erosion of job stability in countries that once enjoyed better standards of living, mixed with the sales of excess weaponry by war profiteers, mixed with the increased competition between more and more countries and peoples for fewer and fewer natural resources, the prospects for peace in the world look dire.

That the world situation seems more volatile than it has been since World War II is leading to a general sense of unease and trepidation for the future, and it seems that everywhere we look, we see signs of things falling apart. Everyone seems to believe that something big and generally nasty is about to happen, although no one seems to know exactly what that something is. We fear conventional warfare with those we consider "rogue" states, and we also fear unconventional warfare against terrorist organizations. We fear the signs of more severe weather, and the fact that we here in the United States just elected a President and Congress who relish in denying the science of climate change is not encouraging. The seas are rising, and the threat is real, yet it seems that this disastrous fate is inevitable, albeit unpredictable. We are competing for fewer resources, and with more and more weaponry being carelessly strewn about throughout the world, war will inevitably follow. Technology may have changed our lives, yet it seems to be killing our souls, and we always fear the possibility that it might actually take over. At the very least, it seems to be having the effect of making human lives increasingly irrelevant, as jobs are growing more scarce because of technological improvements. And, of course, there is always the fear of some plague that just spreads until it grows out of control, and ready to wipe out millions, if not billions, of people in one fell swoop. 

Plus, human rights seems to be undervalued these days. We just do not seem to take it seriously, do we? After all, we have made a habit here in the west of supporting governments and corporations who empower regional warlords, and we do not seem to mind indirectly supporting brutal conditions in other countries, so long as it means that the trendy clothing that we purchase at stores like Walmart and Target are cheap and attractive. And, as Jello Biafra has claimed, when you ignore human rights in the rest of the world, you might as well lose your own, as well. It seems obvious these days that Americans are indeed losing their traditional rights. President George W. Bush proposed to curtail certain rights with the passing of the PATRIOT Act, which increased government surveillance of it's own citizens, and then following it up with his proposed PATRIOT Act II, which would have given the right of the government to revoke the privileges of citizens to Americans who criticized the government too much. He even suggested that Americans had too many rights, claimed that you were either with him or against him, and mused about how convenient it would be to have a dictatorship - so long as he was the dictator. President Obama also increased surveillance with his infamous drone program, and he got rid of the habeas corpus. Plus, like his predecessors, he empowered the corporate state still more. And Donald Trump seems even worse than both Bush and Obama, as he seems downright intolerant of dissent, appears to favor methods of torture and increased warfare, and as a billionaire, has shown signs of increasing the stranglehold that corporate America has over it's citizens.

Yes, the world seems to be growing worse, not better. And the main thrust of the problem is what it has always been, that lives are undervalued while profits for the few are greatly overvalued. It is a sad and scary time to be alive.

All of this is why we should indeed honor this day as International Human Rights Day. We should indeed remember the past, lest we repeat many of the same mistakes (as we appear to be doing) which led to disaster. We should remember the disasters, too, as this was the impetus for those who finally saw the wisdom of trying to take a smarter approach only after the full effect of excess human stupidity was felt.

As always, we still have an opportunity today to get it right, and we could sure do worse than to look at both the failures as well as the successes from the past and try to understand them, so that we ourselves can benefit from this superior experience and understanding. 

That is why today, I recognize and celebrate International Human Rights Day. 

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