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Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Power of a Declaration by Amartya Sen Making human rights real.

The long reach of the Universal Declaration can be seen in the diversity of struggles in which its approach and its reasoning make an important contribution. The grand vision of a world with universal rights may be detected in the fight against comprehensive violations by military governments in Latin America yesterday and in Burma and Sudan today. It can be seen as providing inspiration for movements for civil and political rights in China. It has played a role in challenging the policy of the American government to incarcerate alleged "enemy combatants" without recourse to civil legal procedures, and in agitating for the fair treatment of immigrants in European countries. Its influence can be found in the championing of the rights of ill-treated women in societies with deep gender inequality, and in the fight against persistent hunger in many parts of the world, including in booming but still grossly unequal India. It contributes to the battle against torture anywhere in the world, and to the gathering momentum against medical neglect and epidemics with known remedies, which are increasingly seen as violations of human rights.

One indication of the impact of the Universal Declaration is the extent to which authoritarian governments fear it. Just recently, as the Human Rights Defenders Center in Tehran, led by the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, was publicly celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Iranian police raided its offices, with the aim of closing down the organization indefinitely. And at about the same time, the Chinese government arrested a number of human rights activists who commemorated the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by making various immediate demands. And so the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with its powerful reasoning, continues to serve as strong ammunition for social movements and agitations that defend the lives and freedoms of the ill-treated, the excluded, the violated, and the wretched. The force of that visionary affirmation is still empowering. Its work is not yet done.


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