Amnesty International Report 2008

60 years ago, our world leaders signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in New York, which pledged, among other things, that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” These are the following few articles:

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The rest of the text can be found here {} but those articles have been the most significant ones in the years following the signing.

Amnesty International, established in 1961, has campaigned around the world to draw attention to violations of human rights and help combat them. They release regular reports and their recent one focused on the developments in human rights since the signing of the Declaration in December 1948. I found it particularly interesting, because for an organisation like Amnesty, who distribute well-researched and respected information in a range of media, this one seemed oddly lacking. A 6-minute audio or video presentation condenses what AI view to be the most shameful violations of human rights to a (monotonously read) list. Five people contribute to the report – the narrator, a Burmese monk, a Kenyan villager, Irene Khan (AI’s secretary general) and Malcolm Nance (former counter-terrorist advisor to the White House).

I heard and watched this report as a pod- and vod-cast, and was disappointed by their black assessment of the stark state of human suffering in the last 60 years. If you check their website however, AI provide a lot more information, including videos, documents, press releases, petitions and features. {}

Be that as it may, the tone throughout all this material remains the same – Amnesty International are more critical of government failure than necessary, and insist on focussing on the areas of negative growth rather than on the progress made.

If we look at the cases they discussed, we’re talking about Burma, Israel, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Colombia and Iraq. The Burmese case was most discussed, since it’s arguably one of the most topical cases in today’s news. Democracy in Burma ended in 1962 when General Ne Win began a coup d’état and introduced a one-party socialist system with complete nationalisation. The military took over completely and organised themselves to form the Burma Socialist Programme Party; their rule has been absolute and tyrannical since then. Any protests at all are met with violence, oftentimes death – which has led to huge volumes of non-Burmese nationals fleeing for their lives.

By 1988, the situation was out of hand and the problems spread to economics. People can handle being suppressed politically (at least to an extent), but you can’t take away basic freedoms, replace them with poverty and expect no repercussions. On 8 August 1988, the real uprising began, and the Ne Win’s BSPP was replaced by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), who introduced martial law in 1989 and had complete control over everyday activities and life in the country.

After almost 30 rules of tyranny, Burma had its first democratic elections in May 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy won a landslide victory, but SLORC refused to step down. They put Suu Kyi under house arrest and imposed even stricter controls on daily life in Burma, making it impossible to live in peace and safety.

This has been the situation since 1990, so it’s no wonder that Burma is the top of almost every human rights organisation in the world.

However, AI seemed to suggest, with their report, that this was comparable to other human rights atrocities which it simply isn’t. Israel/Palestine and Iraq are political, and more progress is being made in other conflict zones than they’re given credit for.

Yes, little has improved in recent years. We can certainly point to more than a handful of nations with human rights violations like this – Sudan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Gambia, Australia, Iran, Pakistan etc – where little has changed and where much work is still needed. But let’s not group all nations with human rights issues with these, let’s not get miserable and defeatist about everything.

So what is there for us to be optimistic about then, you ask. Well, look at it this way. 60 years ago, who would have been able to point to South Africa on a map? What could they have told you about the pain of indigenous life in Australia? Who would have cared about gender discrimination in the Middle East? Isn’t it something that today, we know what the problems are, we can put a voice, face and a story to the issues around?

Shouldn’t we be proud that we not only know so much about what’s going on around us in so many corners of the world? And, more than that, so many of us care? And that there are opportunties for us to do something about it – volunteer, campaign, donate, petition, urge others to take up the cause? The fact that I can write it and you can read it, pass the word on, think about what you can contriubte to the international community. That’s our progress, that’s what we’ve achieved. We’ve made it possible to mobilise a global community of compassionate and caring people, and we empathise with others. We aren’t content to leave the status quo as it is, there are people everyday fighting, laying their lives on the line so that things can change.

So fine, the situation in a lot of countries isn’t getting better and for that, we know who to point the fingers at, we know who the aggressors are and we have a picture of what the end result should be. Our success as everyday people is that we can do, and are doing, that which was not possible 60 years ago – as ordinary folk, we are changing the world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s