Obstacles to Progress in Human Rights
The community of nations has come a long way in the forty-five years since the adoption of the universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard for all people and nations. Clearly, however, it has a long way to go before the commitments inherent in the Declaration and related instruments are translated into a universal respect for human rights. Acutely aware that many obstacles hinder us from converting resolution into realization, the Baha'i International Community would like to address three obstacles that we believe particularly need close attention.
It is perhaps a truism to say that the exercise of unfettered national sovereignty is a major obstacle to the safeguarding of the human rights of all peoples, but the point deserves to be made at the outset of any discussion on the subject. Despite the establishment of international standards for human rights, many nations cling to the view that respect for those rights should be granted or withheld at the discretion of national governments. This attitude ignores the operation of forces that are drawing the world together and paving the way for the establishment of a new order based on the recognition that what happens to one member of the human family happens to us all.
A second obstacle is the lack of adequate mechanisms to enforce adherence to the provisions of the Conventions. International human rights standards are not legally binding on all governments, and compliance, even by those states that have ratified specific conventions, is voluntary. An urgent priority of the international community, therefore, is to press for the universal ratification of the existing covenants and conventions. Alongside this process of ratification must go the strengthening of the role of the various committees established to monitor implementation, such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In addition, international criminal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity and for flagrant violations of internationally recognized human rights should also be invested in a permanent body.
The third obstacle to humanity's progress in this important field of development is the general lack of awareness of human rights, particularly among those entrusted with administering justice at the local level. The discussion of human rights needs to be moved from the area of legal and political policy making to the local community, where the lives of individuals will be touched and lasting changes can be made. Educating those who administer justice about the basic human rights set forth in the Declaration is just the beginning. All citizens need not only to learn about their own rights but to develop respect for the rights of humanity in general.
It seems to us self-evident that the mobilization of effort needed to overcome all three of the obstacles discussed in the foregoing must come from a recognition that humanity constitutes a single people. In the view of the Baha'i International Community the organic oneness of humanity is a fundamental social and spiritual truth of our age. Indeed, the conviction that we are all citizens of one earth, together with a commitment to the well-being and happiness of all mankind, are the foundation for the realization of the ideals expressed in the universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The earth," Bahá'u'lláh said over a century ago,"is but one country, and mankind its citizens."