Honoring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Courtesy: Jack Healey, Human Rights Action Center

December 10th should be the most important day of the year – worldwide.  

By Chuck Woolery, Activist, Not TV Host

Yet you’d be lucky if you hear anything about it anywhere.  Both of the days major Washington DC newspapers (the moderate Washington Post and the conservative Washington Times) and the prime government media outlet (C-Span) failed to acknowledge this profound day as the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Exactly seventy years (shortly after World War II ended) various legal scholars and philosophers from Canada, India, China, France, and Lebanon formed a drafting committee under the chair America’s First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and watched together as every nation in the world ratified this profound document.  They had completed their work of researching the most basic drivers of war and developed a list of what they (and most of the world would agree) are fundamental inalienable human rights.  Rights that all people have simply because they are born.  Not because of their skin color, sex, wealth, ethnicity, religion or nationality. 

This very concept was reflected in our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence which Abraham Lincoln described as our nation’s “Apple of Gold”.  In the Declaration of Independence, they recognized certain ‘self -evident truths’ established by “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”.  These included the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  Tragically, they ignored this profound reflection when creating the U.S. Constitution (which Lincoln saw as our Apple of Gold’s “Frame of Silver”).  Ignoring this fundamental principle of human rights would eventually cost more American lives in our Civil War than all the wars that our nation has fought in since then, combined.  

But even after amending our Constitution with the 13th Amendment back then, lethal and potentially catastrophic flaws remain today that will require additional Amendments.  Our Bill of Rights is officially honored every Dec. 15th.   Check this blog after that date for amendment suggestions that could potentially save the lives of millions of Americans and maximize the protection of both our freedoms and our security from a variety of global threats.  

The UDHR is like our Bill of Rights, but far more comprehensive in protecting what Eleanor’s husband called the four basic freedoms (freedom of speech and beliefs — and freedom from fear and want).  Unfortunately, unlike our Bill of Rights the UDHR has no means of enforcement.  This comprehensive list remains nothing more than a profoundly useful set of ideals capable of maximizing humanities freedoms and security in our irreversibly interconnected and interdependent world.

A lack of human rights enforcement by the UN was intentional. The top priority of the nations creating the new system of international law was to protect the rights of nations, a centuries old model referred to as ‘national sovereignty’.  Functionally defined – “national sovereignty” is the right of any nation to do whatever it wants, whenever it likes, to whom ever it can, whenever it can, if it believes it has the military power, the foreign alliances, the will of God, and/or the capacity for anonymous action.

The protection of human rights was never really a priority of the governments engaged in creating the UN.  Because of the war they were obviously far more interested in ensuring their own immediate security and didn’t agree that the fundamental purpose of government is for the protection of human rights.

So the flaws within the UN Charter remain a significant danger to us and the world along with the flaws that remain within our U.S. Constitution.  Together, they ensure that war will always be with us.  At least until we obliterate ourselves with nuclear or biological weapons; or Artificial Intelligence gains the wisdom and physical capacity to hold all individuals accountable for intentionally violating anyone’s fundamental human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s common knowledge that if one person kills another person, we call them a murderer.  If he kills a dozen innocent people, we call them by their name.  But if one person kills tens of thousands of innocent people, we call them President (can we hope that AI fixes that?).

Another weakness our nation has today beyond the flaws in our Constitution is our nation’s largely deluded view of patriotism.  So called ‘patriots’ worship national sovereignty without question.  They hold it superior to the God given rights that they pledge allegiance too every time they put their hand over their heart while taking to our nation’s flag.   

Sovereignty was originally conceived and defined as a gift from God to all people. Essentially, it was human freedom, self-ownership and autonomy. Or, a fundamental natural right to be one’s own person, to be the exclusive controller of one’s own body, thoughts, actions, and direction in life.   We yield some of it when we enter into social or economic contract with a spouse, bank, college, city, county, state, country, military branch, religion, or limited environment.   Somehow this limited and precious resource got full transferred to the nation state government that can declare war or enrich corporations that can impact every aspect of your life without your approval.

Now, our greatest external threats are from terrorism combined with WMD proliferation, pandemics, new and re-emerging infectious diseases, failed states, re-emerging superpower tensions, global warming, global poverty, and global economic instability.  Each of these are fueled by each of the other threats — and the growing number of refugees that they each continue to produce.  None of these growing threats (some existential) will be stopped at the border by the most sophisticated walls, advanced military power, or well-funded independent government agency.

There isn’t enough money in the world to stop these threats once they reach our lungs, our nation’s infrastructure, or our nation’s borders.  Our only rational investment is in global prevention efforts.  As you might have observed, ‘prevention’ is an un-American word.   It can best be defined as “deep thinking and wise action that stops the need for wasteful spending of blood and treasure.’  The thing that Eleanor Roosevelt (and crew) were attempting with the UDHR after surviving the most horrific war humanity had ever experienced.

Is there really any question why our world today is a growing cauldron of instability, unprecedented weapons capacity, increasing populism, national tensions, and seemingly unresolvable problems?   Look no further than the insane sanctity of national sovereignty.

Over the years I’ve made multiple attempts to enlist liberal colleagues and institutions into a campaign to redefine the phrase ‘national security’.  There are organizations, umbrella campaigns and reputable studies that encourage this but most liberal organizations remain siloed and focused on their own singular priority. And, because federal and private funding is limited, each organization competes with all the others in a zero-sum game over limited tax dollars, national media attention, and public support.  

Bringing all organizations together to work on a comprehensive solution like funding the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is like herding cats.   They all agree that a ‘movement of movements’ (MoM) is needed but none have taken it seriously with a willingness to lower their movement’s status equal to the importance of the others. 

There are three basic progressive movements.  The peace movement, the environmental movement, and the economic/social justice movement.  Each is fundamentally aligned on maximizing human freedom, security and sustainability. 

The majority in the peace movement won’t move beyond their historic focus on nuclear disarmament, cutting military spending, closing foreign bases, or internal squabbling over their ideological/historical different views of past or current wars. They believe ‘peace’ is the ultimate goal of all humanity, even though human freedoms are too often sacrificed in the push for peace.  

Many in the environmental movement rightfully frame global warming as a threat to civilization or all life on earth.  But, just like the peace movement does with nuclear weapons.   They don’t acknowledge that there are other urgent and catastrophic threats that could, overnight, steal their attention and political thunder.  Plus, environmentalists too often fail to calculate the damage to human freedom and immediate human security from poverty.  They are accurate in accusing a largely unbridled capitalist system of impoverishing people and trashing the environment.  But even the Economist magazine credited global trade with 2/3rds of the reduction in poverty related deaths, and aid with the other third. And, its usually the wealthier nations that make the most progress on environmental protections.  Still today approximately 11,000 children die every day from easily preventable malnutrition and infectious diseases that would be happening even if the planet wasn’t warming and the environment wasn’t at risk. Too many environmentalist and peace activists fail to consider the real-life consequences of nearly 2 billion people attempting to live on $2 a day.  People who are largely illiterate, malnourished, sick and with no access to health care or credit.    Hundreds of millions of these individuals are driven by despair and multiple injustices toward violence. Or, motivated to murder others because of political, ethnic, religious or economic differences or for a job.  Mix this with unprecedented volumes and varieties of weaponry and WMD relatively easily made from dual-use technologies and peace, sustainability and human development becomes very, very difficult.

Then there is the tens of thousands of organizations working to provide nutrition, clean water, sanitation, micro credit, living wage jobs, health care, education, and other human rights protections.  They know that political stability and a clean environment are essential to the delivery of their life saving/transformative services.  Yet they don’t have enough money to achieve their goals either.

The one thing all of these progressive organizations and movements have in common is a lack of resources to effectively achieve their mission.  Yet, each of their specific goals is included within at least one of 168 smaller goals contained within the larger comprehensive 17 SDGs.

The great news is that all of these goals are achievable, achieving them will be far cheaper than the catastrophic consequences of failing, and there is no shortage of money in the world to achieve them all by the year 2030.  And, while most of the governments are in debt and unable (or unwilling) to commit to adequately funding for the SDGs, there is at least $32 trillion stashed in off shore accounts.  Ill-gotten money that was originally in the hands of governments for public goods, or owed to them in taxes, or diverted from them through illegal sales of drugs, weapons, human slaves, or endangered species.  

One piece of legislation that could tap this wealth has the potential to bring all of these progressive efforts together into a MoM capable of passing a bill that could effectively freeze and then work with other nations to seize some or most of these ill-gotten gains.  

The Global Fund could work as a model for establishing a system and structure for fair distribution of newly acquired resources to the most effective organizations in each of the essential issue areas and regions.   What’s missing is the political will.

And the political will could be mobilized if US policy makers were clearly informed on the catastrophic risks and costs to our freedoms, national security, and prosperity if human rights are not placed first on our national security agenda.   As General Mattis once said, if we don’t do this, we need to buy his guys more bullets.

The idea of redefining national security isn’t new.  It was expressed 38 years ago by no less than Presidential Commission on World Hunger.  A word search of that old document revealed fourteen references to nontraditional national security threats that the commissioners believed Americans would face in the future if their recommendations were ignored. 

“In the final analysis, unless Americans — as citizens of an increasingly interdependent world — place far higher priority on overcoming world hunger, its effects will no longer remain remote or unfamiliar.  Nor can we wait until we reach the brink of the precipice; the major actions required do not lend themselves to crisis planning, patchwork management, or emergency financing… The hour is late.  Age-old forces of poverty, disease, inequity, and hunger continue to challenge the world.  Our humanity demands that we act upon these challenges now…”  Presidential Commission on World Hunger, 1980.

Today we are seeing the consequences the Commission warned about “international terrorism”, “war”, “environmental problems”, “diseases” and “other human rights problems” (refugees, genocide, human trafficking…)..  This chaos is costing Americans dearly in blood and treasure as well as driving isolationist populist movements that will only make matters worse unless adequate resources are urgently invested in the prevention of these destructive forces before they reach our shores.

The commission specifically warned about the future consequences if we ignored the global injustice hunger – stating “The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living. The anger, despair and often hatred that result represent real and persistent threats to international order…  Neither the cost to national security of allowing malnutrition to spread nor the gain to be derived by a genuine effort to resolve the problem can be predicted or measured in any precise, mathematical way. Nor can monetary value be placed on avoiding the chaos that will ensue unless the United States and the rest of the world begin to develop a common institutional framework for meeting such other critical global threats as the growing scarcity of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, environmental hazards, pollution of the seas, and international terrorism. Calculable or not, however, this combination of problems now threatens the national security of all countries just as surely as advancing armies or nuclear arsenals.”

The commission also stated “that promoting economic development in general, and overcoming hunger in particular, are tasks far more critical to the U.S. national security than most policymakers acknowledge or even believe. Since the advent of nuclear weapons most Americans have been conditioned to equate national security with the strength of strategic military forces. The Commission considers this prevailing belief to be a simplistic illusion. Armed might represents merely the physical aspect of national security. Military force is ultimately useless in the absence of the global security that only coordinated international progress toward social justice can bring.”

Many other studies and reports have followed this commission. 

Winning the Peace:  Hunger and Instability: 


Each clearly documents the direct and indirect links between protecting human rights global and US national security.    They have offered many affordable and achievable recommendations calling for urgent and comprehensive action, but it is the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that offers the most comprehensive agenda.   Humanity cannot afford failing this fundamental challenge if we are to sustainability maximize freedom and security for all, on this increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. 

Are you aware of any other solutions? 

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