Tuesday, April 21, 2009

60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

By UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
On 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed and adopted by the General Assembly. The extraordinary vision and determination of the drafters produced a document that for the first time set out universal human rights for all people in an individual context.
Now available in more than 360 languages, the Declaration is the most translated document in the world — a testament to its universal nature and reach. It has inspired the constitutions of many newly independent States and many new democracies. It has become a yardstick by which we measure respect for what we know, or should know, as right and wrong.
It is our duty to ensure that these rights are a living reality — that they are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. It is often those who most need their human rights protected who also need to be informed that the Declaration exists — and that it exists for them.
The sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration is an occasion for all of us to recommit to the vision of the Declaration. It remains as relevant today as it was on the day it was adopted. I hope you will make it part of your life.

Sixty years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
"The campaign reminds us that in a world still reeling from the horrors of the Second World War, the Declaration was the first global statement of what we now take for granted -- the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings." - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
10 December 2008 marks 60 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which promised “Dignity and justice for all of us.” Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, the Declaration is made up of a preamble and 30 articles which set out fundamental human rights and freedoms for men and women across the world.
The commitment to universal dignity and justice is the key message of the Declaration. The core values of inherent human dignity, non-discrimination, equality, fairness and universality, apply to everyone, everywhere and always. The Declaration is not a wish-list or luxury, but something that affects and concerns us all.
One of the key appeals of the Declaration is that it was drafted by representatives from all regions of the world and drew inspiration from values, beliefs and political traditions from cultures and societies across the globe. For example Egypt advocated for the statement of universality at the opening of the declaration and a young woman delegate from Pakistan spoke out against child marriage.
Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile, a member of the drafting sub-Committee, wrote: “I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality. In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”
In 1948 when the Declaration was adopted the world was still recovering from the horror of the Second World War with the added uncertainty of the Cold War between East and West taking place. But with the creation of the United Nations in 1945, the world had vowed never to allow the atrocities of the war to happen again. World leaders came together to reinforce the UN Charter, which founded the organisation, with the Declaration of Human Rights which would guarantee the rights of every individual.
Today, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrates 60 years in existence, there is a chance to recall the amazing worldwide appeal of the Declaration. The document has been translated into more than 360 languages. Although not all governments have become parties to all human rights treaties, all countries have however accepted the Declaration. As such the Declaration is seen as a living document which will continue to inspire future generations.
“In advancing all human rights for all, we will move towards the greatest fulfillment of human potential, a promise which is at the heart of the Universal Declaration." - Former High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Ms. Navanethem Pillay
The instrumental importance of human rights principles, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has gained ever wider acceptance. This vision of the Universal Declaration is a beacon of hope for the future, as it contemplates a world with the full realization of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights without distinction.
This is a world in which every man, woman and child lives in dignity, free from hunger, and protected from violence and discrimination, with the benefits of housing, health care, education and opportunity. This vision, in my view, represents the global culture of human rights we strive towards and it should therefore be a unifying rather than divisive force, within and among all cultures.
Yet, we must recognize that, for all the solemn commitments and normative advances made in the promotion and protection of international human rights, serious implementation gaps remain. Impunity, armed conflict and authoritarian rule have not been defeated. Lamentably, a tradeoff between justice and peace is often erroneously invoked when societies emerge from conflict and combatants return to their communities. Regrettably, human rights are at times sidestepped in the name of security. Freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status – the promises of the Universal Declaration - remains an elusive goal. There are too many countries in the world that still systematically discriminate against women, despite international standards and despite recognition of the critical role of women in development, and the role of women in peace and security. A root cause of violence against women is discrimination against women, and I believe that gender equality will contribute to development and security, as well as human rights.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights :
Ms. Navanethem Pillay" from South Africa The appointment of Navanethem Pillay as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was approved by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2008.
Ms. Pillay was the first woman to start a law practice in her home province in South Africa in 1967. Over the next few years, she acted as a defence attorney for anti-apartheid activists, exposing torture, and helping establish key rights for prisoners on Robben Island. She also worked as a lecturer at a university and later was appointed Vice-President of another university.
In 1995, after the end of apartheid, Ms. Pillay was appointed a judge on the South African High Court, and in the same year was chosen to be a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she served a total of eight years, the last four (1999-2003) as President. She played a critical role in the tribunal’s groundbreaking jurisprudence on rape as genocide, as well as on issues of freedom of speech and hate propaganda. In 2003, she was appointed as a judge on the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where she remained until August 2008.
In South Africa, as a member of the Women's National Coalition, she contributed to the inclusion of an equality clause in the country’s Constitution that prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation. She co-founded Equality Now, an international women's rights organization, and has been involved with other organizations working on issues relating to children, detainees, victims of torture and of domestic violence, and a range of economic, social and cultural rights.
Ms. Pillay was born in 1941, and has two daughters.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights :
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which was created by UN General Assembly Resolution in 1993, represents the world's commitment to universal ideals of human dignity.
It has a unique mandate from the international community to promote and protect all human rights. The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the principal human rights official of the UN and heads the UN’s human rights efforts.
The growth in United Nations human rights activities has paralleled the increasing strength of the international human rights movement since the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. Drafted as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations” the Declaration for the first time in human history set out basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings should enjoy. It has over time been widely accepted as the fundamental norms of human rights that all Governments should respect. December 10, the day of its adoption, is observed worldwide as International Human Rights Day.
In 2006 the Human Rights Council was established with an expanded mandate of making recommendations to the General Assembly for further developing international law in the field of human rights and undertaking a Universal Periodic Review of the fulfilment of each State of its human rights obligations and commitments.
Link: http://www.ohchr.org/

Arbitrary Detention: Your Rights in Afghanistan:
Have the police arrested anyone you know? Is a relative in detention awaiting trial? Have you or someone you know been wrongfully arrested and detained? Has your friend been in detention without a conviction for longer than you think is fair?
60 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article Nine established: “No one should be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” This means that no one can hold you, your relatives or anyone else unless the law says they can and they follow proper legal procedures.
In Afghanistan, the 2004 Constitutional Loya Jirga translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into Afghan law, including Article Nine, and prohibited arbitrary arrest and detention in Afghanistan. The Constitution of Afghanistan guarantees that “No one can be pursued, arrested or detained without due process of law” (Article 27; 2) and that a person’s liberty (or freedoms) can be restricted only when the law provides (Article 24; 1).
In line with the Constitution, Afghan laws, such as the Police Law and the Interim Criminal Procedure Code, say who can arrest and detain you, how long you can be detained for and for what reasons. It also clearly states what procedures must be followed for a detention to be legal.
If there are no legal reasons for you to be detained or the detention is beyond the time limit, then you are being arbitrarily detained. If the proper procedures or ‘due process of law’ has not been followed, then you have been arbitrarily detained.
Many people have been and continue to be arbitrarily detained in Afghanistan. People are detained even when they have not committed a crime; sometimes because there is a contractual dispute, sometimes because a powerful person wants to influence them; sometimes because the police want to pressure a criminal suspect by detaining his/her relatives; sometimes because the police, prosecutor or judge want a bribe; sometimes because what is a crime is not always understood.
Afghans also end up being detained arbitrarily because procedures have not been followed. For instance, many Afghans have not been told that they are entitled to a defence counsel or what the charges are against them. Many Afghans also remain in detention past the legal time limits.
Stopping arbitrary detention in Afghanistan will be a long process. Better protections against arbitrary detention need to be put into the law and the law needs to be fully implemented. Afghans are still learning about their rights. The authorities detaining people are still learning to understand their obligations towards detainees under Afghan law.
Criminal law, for instance, does not explicitly ask judges to review the lawfulness of detention until the first court hearing. This means it is possible for someone to be arbitrarily detained for three months before coming before a judge. At the same time, the law requires that authorities release detainees if the police, prosecutors or courts do not meet their legal time lines. This however often does not happen because of confusion and lack of coordination and communication between the authorities responsible.
To successful combat arbitrary detention will require both those detaining people to be more diligent about respecting people’s rights and those who are detained and their families to demand that these rights be respected by the authorities.
Encouragingly, some progress is being made. The Ministry of Justice is working, with the support of the international community, to strengthen the law so that your rights are better protected. For instance, the draft law now grants you the right to have the lawfulness of your detention reviewed within days of being detained. Police, prosecutors and judges are also working together to strengthen oversight and coordination.
A better system needs to be put in place to monitor if the police, prosecutors and judges tell detainees about their rights and respect those rights; this also needs to discipline those who do not. More focused training needs to be developed so that those who detain people fully understand the rights and the laws they are upholding.
And, importantly, more effort needs to be made so that you, your family and your neighbours know your rights and how to exercise them.
You can help stop arbitrary detention today. Learn more about what your rights are. Share this magazine and your new knowledge with a community elder, a friend, or a relative. If a relative is detained, then go to the authorities and remind them of their obligations.

Hoping for Justice
Beneath the surface of today’s Kabul is lingering anger at unresolved crimes of the past. Homayon Khoram talks to some of those still seeking justice.
Khoda hafez (Good bye) were the last words Mir Gul, a retired university lecturer, heard from his son Qasim in the hot summer of 1992. Qasim, 24, the father of a three month old girl left home for work and “disappeared”. Years later Mir Gul found that he’d been killed by fighters in the Guzar Gah area of Kabul.
One day Malalai’s husband, an ordinary employee at Kabul Airport and member of no political party went to work; no one has seen him since. Almost a decade later Malalai found out that he’d been arrested by the Khad, then Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. He was taken from his office directly to Pul-e-Charkhi prison where he and many others were executed without a trial.
There are hundreds of cases and thousands of people who disappeared following the April coup of 1978 when the first Afghan President Mohammad Daud was overthrown until 2001 when the Taliban regime was toppled.
People were executed, many of them without trial, by the pro-Soviet regime during 1978-1991.
Human rights violations
After the fall of the pro-Soviet regime in April 1992, factional fighting started. Kabul was reduced to rubble and many civilians died.
Mohammad Karim was a grade twelve student when he was stopped by fighters on the Darul Aman road. He was taken to the house of Science and Culture on the same road.
“Blood ran cold in my veins as I saw another man badly beaten and bleeding there,” said Karim. “I saw that young man dying and thought I will die the same way. They searched me and took my wrist watch and a little cash I had.”
The fighters kicked Karim and beat him with their AK-47s and chains. As their position came under attack from a rival faction they went off to fight. Karim, who was only just able to move, managed to climb a wall and escape.
Manan was very “lucky” to have only one sister killed when a rocket landed in a wedding party in Qalai Fateullah Khan, a residential neighbourhood in Kabul. Manan’s entire family was on their way to the wedding where 60 people were killed. Being late saved Manan’s family.
Abdul Naser carried his teenage sister who was wounded in a rocket attack in the residential area of Sarak-e-Naw.
“We were caught in the middle of the fighting when we were going home and she was wounded in her abdomen. While carrying her I was feeling warmth from her breathing at my neck. Suddenly I felt no warmth and when we reached home she was already dead,” said Naser.
Due to on-gong fighting their family buried her in the yard of the house as many other people did with their loved ones who died in the days of severe fighting between the two factions.
An entire family of 13 people was killed by a single rocket which landed on a house in the Khair Khana neighbourhood in Kabul.
“Neighbours buried the family as there was no way to inform relatives in those days of the bloodshed,” recalled Haji Najeeb the neighbour of the deceased family.
Fighters were also stationed on the Kart-e-Naw hills. “They were forcing us to carry their food to the top of the hill. Once I saw two fighters betting for a bottle of Coca Cola to see who was a better sniper. Nothing strange in this except that their targets were people walking down the hill on the roads,” remembered Abdul Rashid a resident of Kart-e-Naw.
Abdul Rashid stayed in Kabul to look after his house. “I left for Jalalabad the next day as my life was worth just a bottle of cold drink,” he says.
No single group is responsible for Afghanistan's tragic legacy of war and civil strife. All the victims I spoke to say there should be no amnesty for those who committed human rights violations against civilians.
Call for justice
What is common from the people describing their grievances is the call for justice.
All the names of the people mentioned have been changed as they still fear persecution for expressing their opinion about such a sensitive matter as transitional justice.
“When I hear from the media that the Government offers reconciliation to the person who is behind the killing of my son, this makes me mad,” said Mir Gul.
“I know no one is guilty until the court recognizes him or her as guilty but there is compelling evidence,” he adds. “I would have felt much better if I had buried my husband,” said Malalai, who believes that transitional justice is a long process but she has not seen the first step taken yet.
Action Plan
Afghanistan launched an action plan for peace, reconciliation and justice in December 2006 which was drafted by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
The action plan includes an acknowledgement of the suffering of the Afghan people and ensuring credible and accountable state institutions. The plan highlights purging human rights violators and criminals from state institutions, truth-seeking and documentation, promotion of reconciliation and an improvement of national unity and the establishment of effective and reasonable accountability mechanisms.
Both houses of parliament, the Lower House (Wolesi Jirga) and the Upper House (Meshrano Jirga) have passed a reconciliation bill granting amnesty for all those involved in human rights violations during past civil wars. The bill still needs to be endorsed by the President.
“I hope if not me, but my granddaughter will one day will see her father’s killers behind bars,” concludes Mir Gul.

Dr. Sima Samar, Head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission:
“Not addressing past war crimes is not a solution for the people. In fact this causes people to run out of patience and they look for opportunities to take revenge themselves. We should not let this happen,” said Dr. Sima Samar.
Q & A
Dr. Sima Samar, Head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
Q: Your main focus has been on the documentation of past crimes. What else, beside documentation, has been done in regard to transitional justice?
Based on the report “A call for justice” an action plan was made. The plan was for three years - 2006, 2007, 2008. There are five points clearly mentioned in the action plan: 1 - Acknowledging the suffering of the people; 2 - Nominating a day as “Victim’s Day” and building memorials. These can reduce the pain of the people. 3 - Strengthening documentation. Some of the documents should be collected and should draw a map of the crimes which have taken place in the past and should indicate which kinds of crimes they were. 4 - The removal of people accused of war crimes from Government positions. For this purpose a consultative committee has been established for the President. The committee had to review the candidates past human rights record and make sure that a post should go to the right person; 5 - Establishing a committee or an institution to investigate war crimes , but unfortunately it didn’t happen and only a day has been nominated as National Day of Human Rights Victims which is observed on 10 December.
As for as the documentation is concerned, the commission has worked on it. Now we are in the process of analyzing our reports for any shortcomings. We are in the process of making a small museum in Badakhshan province and we have also worked on a memorial place in Herat.

Q: How do you assess Government’s actions following the launch of the action plan in 2006?
AIHRC: This was the action plan for peace, reconciliation and justice which I already explained. The Government has not taken any fruitful action as it was expected to. The reason behind that are the killings you can see happening in the city. People have lost hope and trust in justice and therefore people are unfortunately attempting revenge which will continue to have negative impacts on our community. In fact, we were supporting more to be done in this regard on different approaches: cultural, traditional or Islamic approaches should be exercised for amnesty and people must be encouraged for forgiveness. Actually, there has been little done in this aspect.
Moreover, if you remember, the lower and upper houses of Parliament have passed an amnesty bill and let all criminals get amnesty, from the Saur Coup of 1357 (the April Revolution of 1978) until now. Whoever was involved in conflicts have been given full impunity. However, the President has not endorsed the bill. But there are indications, unfortunately, showing the bill is being implemented.
For example, Asadullah Sarwary, who was head of the AKSA (National Security Department) during the communist regime, killed and tortured to death many ordinary people around the country. The prison term for Asadullah Sarwary was 16 years whilst unfortunately others who committed lesser crimes will face capital punishment.

Q: What is your view on the Transitional Justice theatre launched by the commission and UNAMA? What needs to be done in order to help this process?
AIHRC: In my view, it would be good to give people more awareness. One of the useful ways to organize such a theatre is to give awareness and through it create an environment of an open discussion regarding past crimes and the process of transitional justice amongst the people. I have read the reports on the theatre in Herat, Jalalabad and Bamyan where UNAMA and the Human Rights Commission had organised it and the outcome of the theatre shows it is what people really want. In these three provinces we have witnessed that the people are really appealing for the implementation of justice.
Not addressing past war crimes is not a solution for the people. In fact this causes people to run out of patience and they look for opportunities to take revenge themselves. We should not let this happen.
Therefore, such theatres are a useful awareness tool as it provides opportunity for the victims to share their sufferings and pains. This reduces their protests and finally eliminates them.

Q: Concerning mass graves what progress has been made to identify the exact time when they happened and those responsible?
AIHRC: Mass graves were actually mapped and identified by people who witnessed the incidents. Unfortunately most of these mass murders took place during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan between 1978 and 1992. To further investigate how many people were killed and who they were exactly we would need broader scientific approaches and that is costly. In my personal view, if that is not possible at least the human dignity of those buried must be respected before any construction projects take place.
I have just come from Brussels and the city of Ypres which was totally destroyed in World War One. There are 160 graves in the city and the names of all the victims; even the dates of birth and their country of origin have been engraved on the grave stones. The names of those who were lost and have not been identified, which is some 60,000 people, are also recorded on another memorial place. People remember them and pray for them. Psychologically it affects people while remembering those lost. We hope the same happens in Afghanistan.
Q: You mentioned about the Martyr’s Park in Kabul. I assume all of the mass graves would be re-located in that park as it is almost impossible to identity the victims?
AIHRC: This requires a political commitment and in this regard there have been comments by some religious mullahs not to let this happen and thus making it more political. But the Government can build such memorials and there could be room for a park or tower in any of those places where the killings happened. Regrettably no efforts have been made in this regard so far.

Q: How do you see the future of transitional justice given what you have explained so far?
AIHRC: This again depends on the commitment of leaders and politicians in Afghanistan and to what extent they want a long lasting reconciliation in Afghanistan. There is a need to reduce violence, hatred and pain in this country. This is the responsibility of political leaders now to consider the human dignity of those who lost their lives for freedom and peace in this country. Otherwise we will not leave a good message for future generations in this country who need to know what happened.

Spokesperson's Office
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
Kabul, Afghanistan www.unama-afg.org

Wednesday، December 31، 2008

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