UN Human Rights

Human Rights and Global Justice: A Never-Ending Goal

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In the midst of an encounter with atrocity or injustice, a community leader, an advocate, or a witness may be overwhelmed by a single goal: to bring the crisis to end. The motivating force for action in that moment may be short-term and ultimately attainable. If a migrant population is under assault or a marginalized group is threatened, it’s easy to recognize a simple need: bring relief to the suffering and bring the perpetrators to justice.

But what then?  

A true resolution involves an analysis of why the crisis occurred in the first place. The analysis must be followed by meaningful action to prevent a resurgence of the same circumstances. And since the forces that lead to global injustice are rarely simple, a perfect repetition of the same events will likely never happen. Instead, despite deep analysis and careful preparation, the next such crisis will still seem to arise without warning. And the next. And the next.

In fact, most experts on the subject of global justice seem to agree that the forces that contribute to oppression, unjust resource distribution and involuntary migration are rising at this point in history, not diminishing. From a spike in authoritarian governance to climate change, the factors that bring trouble are not decreasing with each lesson learned, but are instead gathering on the horizon like a dark cloud.

As we witness the annual arrival of Holocaust Remembrance Day, we’re once again faced with a difficult question: How can we declare “never again” in the face of injustice and truly follow through on that promise?

Like a boat on the sea, we are lifted and dropped by the currents that surround us. We can’t hold a fixed position, but we can learn to recognize the rhythms behind each shift, anticipate, respond, remain flexible and remain ever-vigilant. We can accept, as the Talmud instructs us, that we are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to abandon it.

Here’s a beautiful example of a person who has “not become daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief”. This is an inspiring interview with Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and the newly confirmed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  

As Bachelet discusses implementing global systems and leveraging the existing resources of the Human Rights Council, recognize that her history includes detention and torture under the Pinochet regime in Chile, and note how far she has come from the rage that once burned at the core of her search for justice.

Though it is driven by chaos, rage and grief, the path to peace is a structured process. Resilience and determined forward motion are essential, even if the final destination seems always just out of reach.

Please join us on this path! Contact our team to help us maintain steady global progress toward a better and safer world.

Report on Myanmar Released After a UN Fact Finding Mission

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One year ago today, the marginalized and essentially stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar (denied full citizenship but also denied the right the leave the country legally), were subject to a brutal campaign unleashed by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority state security forces.

 

In response to alleged attacks by Rohingya militants against government forces, security members and allied civilian mobs launched an all-out attack on defenseless Rohingya villagers, cutting off their efforts to escape to safety on foot and firing on them from helicopters and from the ground. The unofficial death toll quickly climbed into the hundreds, taking several decades of brutal and systematic oppression to the next murderous level. By mid-August of 2017, over 76,000 people had attempted a dangerous escape across the border to Bangladesh, through rain swollen areas that left more bodies washed up on riverbanks.

Many of those who eventually reached refugee camps described villages surrounded and families shot systematically and stabbed to death, including children.

A year later, six generals have been named as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. In a newly released report describing the campaign and its atrocities, their actions have been called “undoubtedly…the gravest crimes under international law.” Here’s the report.

The government of Myanmar has rejected the allegations, claiming that the attacks were warranted. But the three-member panel responsible for the report has attached the most serious allegation, genocide, to the list of charges against the military leaders. The panel finds enough evidence to support accusations of genocidal intent, and members have cited an organized plan for destruction and evidence of an extreme scale of brutality and violence. The panel cites over 10,000 deaths, harrowing witness accounts and over 700,000 refugees by the end of the 2017 actions in Rakhine.

Despite Myanmar’s refusal to allow access or cooperate with the investigation, the report contains hundreds of pages of witness accounts, interviews, satellite data and other information that will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.

The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has previously condemned the army’s actions, but this newly released report will likely increase pressure for immediate international action. After reviewing the report, the UN Security Council may refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal. The Council may also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and penalize those most responsible with travel bans or asset freezes.  

But the path toward justice, if one exists, will not be clear. Since Myanmar’s civilian authorities have proven unable and unwilling to investigate or deliver justice on their own, any form of accountability will need to come from the international community. And since international criminal law is a nascent entity at this point, the outcome of any form of condemnation remains uncertain.

A year after the fact, the generals responsible for high crimes and human rights violations and the civilian authorities who enabled them remain both unpunished and unrepentant. Read more here and please join us as we follow the developments surrounding the newly released report.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights: A Reminder of Our Mission

The United Nations General Assembly formally accepted and proclaimed the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and because this guiding document arose from the recent global horrors of World War II, its principles were understood on a visceral and personal level by those who drafted, accepted, and pledged to uphold each of its 30 articles.

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70 years have passed since that time, and while some of these core principles have been internalized by the global community, the basic ideas behind the document—that all people have the right to claim basic dignity, freedom, justice and peace—remain the subject of debate and division. Why is this happening? In other words, after the tragic lessons of global war, why do fundamental human goals like equality, dignity and equal access to justice remain elusive? Why do the few and powerful still fight so energetically to deny basic rights to the many, and more important, why do they frequently win?

The defense of liberal democracy lies at the heart of a healthy and functioning social order in which basic human rights are accessible and uncontested. But in 2018, the foundations of democracy are under threat, and majoritarian leaders are still actively working to consolidate their power and pave the way for ongoing human exploitation. Why do human rights movements still struggle to gain a foothold?

Some suggest that universal human rights should be founded on economic, rather than political grounds. According to this argument, voting rights and legislative influence provide only one piece of the puzzle, and as long as economic stability for the poor remains a moral obligation of the rich, economic inequality will thrive and political inequality will follow. Some suggest that a narrowing of goals can undermine the successful expansion of human rights around the globe—for example, a narrow activist focus on specific issues like torture or human trafficking can cast a shadow over institutions that promote economic unfairness, and can therefore become short sighted or self-defeating.

Some suggest that misdirected efforts pose an obstacle to progress—for example, a focus on the courts as an instrument of human rights activism, as opposed to legislative or social efforts. Some suggest that free markets can open the door to self-sustaining human rights, while others see an unregulated marketplace as a tool that benefits only existing corporations and institutions. While we examine the puzzle and try to determine why basic human freedom, safety and dignity lie at the end of an uphill road, hard-won democratic norms are under growing assault through traditional methods that have not changed in over half a century, including the vilification of immigrants and suppression of the free press.

Here at Just Atonement, we rely on the legal system and the application of existing laws to protect the weak from the strong and promote the social, economic, and legal equality that provide fertile soil for healthy democratic institutions. But we also partner with social and academic organizations that can help us answer core questions and guide us on the path to a better world. If you’d like to join this conversation and help us identify connections that can advance the cause of global justice and human rights, please contact us and share your story.