By Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis Head of Delegation at the UN headquarters in New York
Among the countless anniversaries and commemorations which unfold at United Nations headquarters in New York City, this 60th anniversary unfolded on a Spring-like day in December offering something of a respectful pause amidst the otherwise rush of end-of-year meetings, pre-holiday schedules and a weary world’s woes.
Now aging seats in the old Trusteeship Council Chamber swiftly filled up with Member States of the 63rd General Assembly. Wasn’t a standing room only gathering, as there was in recent times for the food crisis, financial crisis, resolution on women, peace & security.
There wasn’t urgent clamoring from diplomats or civil society in balcony. But – there were very serious global voices noting, remarking, remembering. Somalia was mentioned quickly, the Democratic Republic of Congo was noted several times, others. Comments came about counterterrorism measures, lack of respect, tolerance.
As human rights expert advised, informed, challenged any complacency, government representatives spoke – some briefly, some at great length. Words echoed through the Chamber with translators keeping the momentum. The venue was webcast live for all to see, hear – and hopefully take actions.
In Somalia a human rights expert said: “Just another day of suffering…” With what some see as wide attention on crises in Zimbabwe and DRCongo, they state: “Far more atrocities taking place today in Somalia than any other country in the world.”
Another concerned international citizen announced strongly: “It’s no longer possible to say some rights are more important than others. All rights, every right is vital and to be respected.”
Today, more than ever we need not mere annual checklists of improvement. We need substantive actions across all sectors; we need one united UN, galvanizing strength upon strength, fact upon fact – to rescue humanity. In UN speak it’s called system-wide coherence; some Members get it!
Still others argue: don’t be negative, don’t be pessimistic, have hopes.
Indeed, the human rights of disabled persons finally got deserved recognition and entered into international law in 2008.
Good – yes, and a breakthrough, but late like so many recognitions.
Regardless of special needs, circumstances or historic contexts, rights are rights meant to absolutely support the dignity of every human being.
All rights are to be respected without casting about for degrees of rightness. Human rights must be an empowering process especially for marginalized people.
With talk of amnesty, impunity, indictments, international law – followed by democracy, freedom, liberation, integrity and universality, comes the realization at anniversary like this that while some progress has unfolded in the course of the last sixty post W.W.II years – many experts suggest that the last ten years have seen too many setbacks.
Wherever you look around the world, continent to continent, town to village, ignoring human rights helps no one and impoverishes the entire community.
Remembering – the right to food.
Remembering – the right to education.
Remembering – the right to development.
Remembering – the right to religion and freedom of speech.
Remembering – the right to be ALIVE, working, breathing, communicating and contributing peacefully into a responsible engaged global human family.
Thankfully many governments took notice of the vast networks of NGOs and local rights-minded communities, citizens, organizations who hold on wisely, with dedication and significant education outreach… that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood as the First Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed
on December 10, 1948.