Opinion: Society Should Keep its Human Rights Promise | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 28.05.2008
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Opinion: Society Should Keep its Human Rights Promise

Amnesty International's annual report coincides with the 60th anniversary of the UN's human rights declaration. Europe should do more to keep its human rights promise, writes DW's Ulrike Mast-Kirschning.


It is alarming that, as Amnesty International presented in its annual report, people were tortured or treated inhumanely in 81 countries last year alone.

Since free speech and freedom of the press were violated in just as many countries, one could conclude that the responsible political leaders are unscrupulously trying to secure their power and are perfectly willing to sacrifice democratic culture along the way.

That women are mistreated in countless countries and discriminated against because of their gender doesn't vouch for equality, but for the principle of male dominance.

All over the world, citizens need truthful, trustworthy, responsibly acting governments that are prepared to allow for competition to find the best solutions according to democratic principles.

New challenges to face

Globalization has presented humanity with new challenges -- climate change and natural catastrophes, the loss of biodiversity, increasing poverty, AIDS and malaria, just to name a few.

Governments must finally aim to meet these challegnes, while fairly negotiating a variety of interests to guarantee the people a peaceful, humane life -- whether in Burma or Zimbabwe, in Pakistan or Sudan, in Iraq or Afghanistan.

These countries would certainly be more inclined to take responsibility if leaders like the US would do without the double standards that's been evident recently. The US is hardly credible when it tells other countries to observe human rights but incarcerates people without a prosecution or trial, like in Guantanamo, or allows the CIA to implement torture methods that simulate drowning ("waterboarding").

Countries like China and Russia also have to seriously address their human rights problems.

Keeping a promise

Even Europe's human rights system, which receives praise around the world, needs more tweaking in light of the new challenges. According to Amnesty International, no European country has been taken the necessary measures to avoid taking part in secret renditions by the US in the future.

The same is true of governments on all continents: The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed 60 years ago with hope and promise, represents the result of centuries of human rights experiences.

This binding legal commitment should be honored by the international community. This alone makes governments capable of what the world expects from the United Nations. Otherwise people will lose their patience with and trust in those who govern.

Amnesty International's annual report is proof that an active civil society is called upon to keep this promise.

Ulrike Mast-Kirschning is an editor at DW-RADIO. (kjb)

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