Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Human Rights Day is a holiday...

(Eleanor Roosevelt with the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from amnestyinternational.wordpress.com)

On the 10th of December 1948, still reeling from the aftermath of World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted, 48 in favour, none against and 8 obstentions, to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was 60 years ago today.

Have you read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It is the most translated document in the world and you can see 337 different language versions here or you can watch this elegant version created by New Yorker Seth Brau of CoolHunting for the Human Rights Action Centre. It effectively spells out in a beautiful typographic symphony all of the declaration's 30 articles in less than five minutes to a rift from 'Minds awake' by Rumspringer.

Despite the fact that many countries have adopted some of the declarations principles (such as the right to equal protection before the law or the right not to be tortured) in their constitutions, law courts have referenced them, citizens have relied upon them for protection and every country that joins the United Nations agrees to abide by them...many do not. Amnesty International's annual status report says that people are still being tortured or maltreated in at least 81 countries. That in 54 states people face unfair trial and in at least 77 nations they do not have the freedom to speak out. It singles out nations such as China, Russia and the United States for their failure to adhere to particular freedoms and rights promised under the declaration as well as current 'hotbeds' such as the Congo, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar. It calls Western governments 'impotent', 'ambivalent' and 'reluctant' when it comes to taking on some of the 'world's worst human rights crises'.

Cambodia has a horrific history with regard to human rights and although things are better today there are still significant human rights violations. Government employees torture, injure, kill, rape and illegally detain. Government officials routinely confiscate or prevent access to personal property, land, farming or fishing sites. Political killings occur during elections. Political opponents are threatened and intimidated, so too are human rights workers in some remote provinces. Impunity for government and the monied or connected is a 'rampant problem'. Child labour is a very real and common problem as is violence towards women that is not addressed by the court system.

In Cambodia today is a holiday. In the past the government has vetoed public celebrations but this year the Minister of Interior Sar Kheng stepped in. Since 'Cambodia is a signatory of this convention (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)' he ordered the Phnom Penh governor to facilitate whatever events were planned in a letter. A coalition of NGO's called Friends of December 10th have organised events designed to 'mark human rights achievements and also to shed light on rights violations in Cambodia' symbolically tied together with a blue krama (traditional Khmer scarf) and a common theme titled 'We All Need Freedom and Justice.'

In Battambang, at least 1,000 people are expected to fly balloons.

In Banteay Meanchey province, 500 tuk-tuk and mototaxi drivers will gather for a solidarity concert.

In Phnom Penh, 5000 people are expected to march from Wat Lanka to Wat Botum.

On another related note the day before yesterday it was reported that government and NGO leaders have agreed to form an independent human rights body, the first of it's kind, to help tackle Cambodia’s 'law of the gun.'

'The problem in Cambodia is that no human rights body is independent and fair,' Pa Nguon Teang, secretary-general of the Cambodia Working Group (CWG) for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, said. 'Corruption is widespread in Cambodia's courts, which have failed to enforce human rights laws.'

Its a small but significant step forward.

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