After the war crimes committed by the Germans in the holocaust that occurred during World War II, the United nations decided to create a document guaranteeing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people, regardless of race, sex, language, or religion. This document was called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration was voted in on December 10, 1948, which is now celebrated each year as Human Rights Day. The Declaration says that all human beings are born free and equal and establishes basic rights for all people and rules for the actions of governments in many areas pertaining to those rights.
For example, it says that all people have the right to liberty, religious and political freedom, education, and economic well-being. It bans torture and states that all people have the right to participate in their governments. The declaration is not a law, unfortunately, and in some cases has had little actual effect on the member countries of the UN. Governments with poor human rights records, such as China, do not agree with the UNs attempts to promote human rights, saying that such actions interfere with their internal affairs. The UN has a Commission on Human Rights.
Its job is to monitor abuses of the declaration in member countries, hold international meetings on human rights issues and handle complaints about violations to the basic human rights. It was in 1993 that the General Assembly created the position of High Commissioner for Human Rights. The commissioner job is to oversee all of the UNs human rights programs, work to prevent human rights violations, and investigate human rights abuses. It is also in the commissioners power to publicize abuses to human rights taking place in any country.
However most publicity about abuses to human rights does not come from the UN but from rival countries or non-governmental groups like Amnesty International The UN has also written four international treaties on human rights. These treaties do have the force of law but are very hard to enforce. The treaties deal only with the problems of genocide, racial discrimination, civil and political rights, and economic and social rights. These four treaties have only been signed by about half of the countries of the world.
Notably the United States has only signed the treaty concerning genocide. Other countries have also refused to sign the conventions because of concerns about the specific terms of the conventions and the loss of authority that such treaties imply. Recent Human Rights Activities The UNs most well known recent activities dealing with human rights are the two International Criminal Tribunals held to bring to justice those responsible for the horrible acts of violence committed during the recent civil wars in the former countries of Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
The tribunal for crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia was established by the UNs Security Council in 1993. The council started the Rwanda tribunal in 1994. They are the first international war crimes trials since the Nrnberg Trials for Nazi war criminals that followed World War II. Although the tribunals were established by the Security Council, they operated independently of the UN. The trials depend on contributions from countries to keep operating and were often hampered by financial shortages.
Another more serious problem was the inability to arrest suspects in countries that do not recognize the treaties brought in by the UN as valid. The Yugoslav tribunal indicted 75 people for war crimes and genocide, including the top military and political leaders of the Serb forces in Bosnia and a high officer in the Croatian militia in Bosnia but neither Serbia nor the Bosnian Serb forces have turned over suspects. The international military forces in Bosnia have also refused to arrest them. The president of Croatia actually gave an indicted officer a promotion and medals.
In 1997 the tribunal had only a handful of low-ranking suspects to actually bring to trial. Impact Many critics of the UN claim that the International Declaration Of Human rights has had very little real impact on infringements to any of the rights outlined in it since it does not carry the force of law. In many cases this is true, China still has virtually no freedom of speech, in the former country of Yugoslavia there are still reports of ethnic cleansing and horrible crimes against humanity committed by both sides.
What the Declaration has done is spoken up. Before it was put into writing there was no real outline for how people should be treated or what are the most basic in alienable rights that should be given to any human being. Another thing the declaration has done is cause people to stand up and take notice of human rights issues in the world. Before it was drafted, many cases involving human rights were simply ignored or kept quiet.
Take for example just before World War Two, Nazi Germany was known to want to eliminate a great percentage of people not fitting into their Aryan master race, yet they still hosted the Olympics of 1936. At those Olympics they refused to grant a gold medal to a Jewish person, Jesse Owens, and still America and many other countries chose to ignore Germany for political reasons. After the war, almost in response to the declarations, various human rights organizations, such as amnesty international have been created.
They almost always use the Declaration as their basic outline for the rights of human beings. These groups bring much attention to the human rights problems of the world. A good example was the later war in Vietnam, protests in the United States over unfair treatment of enemy civilians is one of the main reasons they were forced to pull out. So in conclusion I must say that nobody can argue that forcing people to stand up and take notice is the only way to eliminate a problem and that is what the Declaration has achieved.