By Gerald M. Steinberg
December 10 is International Human Rights Day -- marking the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948. In accepting this document following the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, the signatories pledged to protect the "inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family." Like other such anniversaries, the date provides an opportunity to examine the accomplishments, as well as the failures, in implementing this pledge.
The failures are clearly dominant -- in much of the world, human rights, including the basic right to life, are given short shrift. The watchdogs, both in the United Nations itself, and in the accompanying network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim to promote morality and human rights, have not only failed -- they have become a major part of the problem.
The basic norms of human behavior, including the right to life, are violated regularly by oppressive regimes in
Many of the hundreds of NGOs that claim to promote and protect human rights are often guilty of aiding and abetting this disgraceful process. Powerful international groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Paris-based FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights), and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have used the massive resources at their disposal to exploit these norms to pursue private ideological agendas. They participated in the NGO Forum of the 2001
The "halo effect" enjoyed by the U.N. and NGO human-rights network two or three decades ago has also been eroded by reports which make headlines, but are later shown to be fabricated or unverifiable. Lacking their own research capabilities, groups such as HRW and Amnesty rely on "local eyewitnesses" for evidence in Colombia (FARC),
In order to change this dismal state of affairs, and restore the moral foundation and universality of human rights, the structure of the international diplomatic and NGO mechanisms must be changed, and the leaders must be replaced. The creation of alternative mechanisms to promote human rights, in which membership is limited to democratic governments, and which (without
Among the NGO superpowers, Kenneth Roth, who has headed Human Rights Watch since 1993, and Irene Khan, who has controlled Amnesty International since 2001, have been in power for far too long. They are responsible in large part for the politicization of human rights, including the double standards and lack of credibility. The same is true for the leaders of other groups in
At the same time, in order to restore the lost moral foundation of the human-rights movement, the donors and members of these organizations must also act responsibility to ensure that their support is not abused. It is not enough to simply write a check and come to an annual cocktail party, and declare that they have done their share to promote human rights. Donors to NGOs can be compared to directors of corporations that are accountable for transgressions committed by the officers of their firms. Following the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, the Ford Foundation (under threat of congressional investigation) accepted responsibility for funding some of the most virulent participants, and has implemented guidelines that are designed to prevent a repetition. Some donors to groups such as HRW have cut or conditioned their donations on an end to the double standards, and some members and officials of Amnesty have resigned in protest. These are all steps in the right direction.
In the Spring of 2009, the U.N. Human Rights Council has scheduled a follow up to the infamous
Gerald M. Steinberg
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