Monday, December 08, 2008

Human Rights - time to take the battle to the dictators

(Image of torture cell courtesy of Boris Kester)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) will be 60 years old on Wednesday. It is an amazing document, reading as fresh and clear now as when it was written, just after the victory of the United Nations over the forces of right-wing darkness. It has stood as a standard in a battlefield between those who think that we should try to be a bit nicer to each other, and those who are more inclined to model their behaviour on chimpanzees who have caught a monkey and are tearing it apart prior to eating it.

Most human societies gave up human sacrifice in the Iron Age. The change in attitude can be seen in the story of Abraham and Isaac, in the Persian story of Jamsheed and Dahuk, in Roman myths, in many myths. We can be sure that conservatives in the priestly castes foretold the end of civilisation as we know it as the age of human sacrifice came to an end, but in spite of their warnings, civilisation took a step upwards, not downwards, when people stopped ripping hearts out and offering them to the gods. So major change can come about, but sometimes a banned practice continues in different forms.

In 2008, people are not sacrificed to the gods, but on the altar of "state security". Not just in abusive dictatorships, but by people who should know better - the US and UK - only we pay others to do our dirty work for us, hypocrites that we are. In this regard, with "extraordinary rendition" and water-boarding, the Anglo regimes are actually taking a step backwards from civilised values.

Meanwhile the UDHR still stands, and around it, many warriors who fight "not with outward weapons", (as the Quaker peace declaration puts it) are still defending the rallying point of the UDHR against state abusers of human rights.

It is time now for us to stop defending and reacting to abuses, and to take the battle to the abusers. It is time now for us to become pro-active, not just reactive.

How can this be done?

Each year, Amnesty International, the US State Department, and the UN gather vast amounts of data on all states' human rights (HR) records. Year by year, more reports are filed on the shelves of the UN and academia, and occasionally PhD students and HR specialists consult them. Jo Public does not read them, so as far as she is concerned, the reports do not exist.

The Global Index of Human Rights will change all this. We intend to persuade the UN to publish an annual report of all states' HR records in the form of a league table, a full spectrum from civilised states like New Zealand to the atrocious regimes of Burma and Mugabe's Zimbabwe. With this instrument, people will be able to tell that standing of any state of interest at a glance. Specialists and law makers will also be able to tell if a state is improving or deteriorating.

The GloHRI is a simple instrument, but effective. It will not put an end to all abuses for ever more everywhere, but it will exert a gentle, continuous leavening effect on states consideration of human rights matters. It will be a step on the path to becoming truly civilised as a species.

Today, the Green Party released a Report on the Global Human Rights Index. It presents the arguments for an Index, reviews four prototype models, has has a section on dealing with dictators.

It can be read here as a document. Or here as a .pdf (much smarter looking). Or you can email me with your address, and I will send you a paper copy (2GBP incl p+p).

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