Friday, November 28, 2008

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) at 60

Many things can be said about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is the foundation of international human rights law, the first universal statement on the basic principles of inalienable human rights, and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. As the UDHR approaches its 60th birthday, it is timely to emphasize the document’s enduring relevance, its universality, and that it has everything to do with all members of the human family. Today, the UDHR is more relevant than ever in a world threatened by racial, economic and religious divides, and we must therefore defend and proclaim the universal principles --first enshrined in the UDHR-- of justice, fairness and equality that people across all boundaries hold so deeply. We must also take cognisance of the threats to the UDHR from those who reinterpret it to suit their own ideologies.

For all its lofty ideals the UDHR has failed to protect the most vulnerable members of our society who cannot speak for themselves. Babies once conceived and prior to birth are treated as disposable and millions are terminated annually. This failure is not so much a failure of the actual text of the document as the inadequacy or deliberate manipulation of its interpretation and therefore its implementation.

The UDHR explicitly includes all members of the human family and yet those who interpret and implement it and the conventions enacted as part of the International Bill of Rights have allowed themselves to be diverted by ideologues and have supported their demands rather than serving the truth.

It is incumbent on all to revisit the issue of interpretation and reassess the implementation of the UDHR. We must ask ourselves why are some members of the human family not given the protection they are entitled to? Why have the most vulnerable members of our society, babies once conceived and prior to birth been deliberately excluded from the protection that is theirs by right?

All attempts to re-interpret the Universal Declaration to exclude the baby prior to birth, are shameful, they are unlawful and unjust. It is to be hoped that those who hold high offices at the UN such as the Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights together with the different arms of the UN such as the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, will reject the current inadequate interpretations placed on the document by NGO’s and some members of the interpretative committees who are hostile to embryonic life, and courageously stand for the rights of the weakest members of society and defend them against ideologies, which seek to destroy them.

The humanity of the embryo is beyond question and we must all recognize the scientific fact that the human being, from the single cell stage of development of the human embryo : whether brought into being by sexual reproduction or otherwise, and whether inside or outside the womb of a woman, is a separate and distinct, living human individual who will progress through all stages of development in a continuum, through the embryonic and fetal stages, to birth, unless it dies or is killed. The embryo therefore is a distinct and autonomously developing human being, whose right to survival, guaranteed by the UDHR, depends upon a protected, hospitable and interpersonal environment that provides life sustenance in the form of nutrition, hydration, and oxygen -- the basic rights of every human being at all stages of life.

It is time to look afresh at the issues, and to redress the faulty interpretation and implementation of the UDHR. It is time for a new and radical approach which will include the protection, which the international community originally decided to put in place and which will help to create a new momentum leading towards the goal of cherishing all human life at all stages of development. It is time the killing stopped