Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Oleh: Muhammad Habib Chirzin


The international community will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the end of this year, December 10, 2008. The United Nations, learning lessons from the devastation of war, placed unprecedented importance in human rights. Article 1 of the organization's Charter states that one of the purposes of the United Nations is "to achieve international cooperation in ... promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion".

In December 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by 48 votes to none with 8 abstentions, giving a substance to the concept of human rights mentioned in the Charter. Until the present, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been considered and generally accepted as the manifestation of common standards for all governments and individuals. The Declaration is of a universal nature.

Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, in his paper “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights : Is it Universal?”  noted that during the past 60 years, the international community has witnessed the gradual, but steady advancement in the direction of the universality and indivisibility of human rights.

1-  this development is seen in the increasing awareness, with a universal dimension, that human rights must be respected and protected whichever nationality one may have, wherever one may live, and whatever status one may hold. This is awareness of the universal nature of human rights. It has now been made clear that human rights are matters of legitimate concern of the international community.

2- this advancement has been taking place in the form of codification, namely drafting and adopting various international human rights instruments. At present a large number of international human rights instruments embody the common understanding of human rights by the international community.

3- and this is the most recent and most difficult aspect, the advancement has been seen in the establishment of international machinery to monitor human rights situations in various parts of the world and to ensure that human rights are protected as stipulated in the international instruments. (Dias, Clarence J and M Abdus Sabur, 2003, P 65 - 77)

It must be noted, however, that even though the majority of the current member States of the United Nations did not participate in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration, many of those new States subsequently joined in the codification process, confirming the universal concept of human rights put forward by the Universal Declaration. Indeed, the relativist positions were inconsistent and confusing in the sense that they accepted, on the one hand, universal human rights in general terms, and, on the other hand, emphasized the legitimacy of a different understanding and practice of human rights arising from different historical, cultural and religious traditions.

Many Asian NGOs, intellectuals, ethnic and cultural minorities, which met in Bangkok at the same time as the Asian States met, issued the NGO Bangkok Declaration (UN document A/CONF.157/PC/83 [see below at p. 478]) which presented a clear contrast to the relativism of human rights asserted by Asian Governments. Asian NGOs upheld the universality of human rights and argued that cultural and religious traditions did not constitute an obstacle to the realization of international human rights norms. (Ibid)

The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in June 1993, was the first global conference to review the subject of human rights in the contemporary world since the Teheran Conference of 1968. 171 Member States participated. They adopted, by consensus, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action [see 14 HRLJ 352 (1993)].

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action is the outcome of intensive diplomatic negotiations. Its final text shows traces of political compromise. However, the Declaration did not leave any doubt or ambiguity about the universality of human rights. This is proven by the following paragraphs of the Declaration:

"Reaffirming their commitment to the purposes and principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

"Reaffirming the commitment contained in Article 56 of the Charter of the United Nations to take joint and separate action, placing proper emphasis on developing effective international cooperation for the realization of the purposes set out in Article 55, including universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, ..."

"Emphasizing that the Universal declaration of Human Rights, which constitutes a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, is the source of inspiration and has been the basis for the United Nations in making advances in standard setting as contained in the existing international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, social and Cultural Rights",

"1. The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the solemn commitment of all states to fulfill their obligations to promote universal respect for, and observance and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, other instruments relating to human rights, and international law. The universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question".

"5. All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms."

"32. The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the importance of ensuring the universality objective and non-selectivity of the consideration of human rights issues".

"11(4). The World Conference on Human Rights strongly recommends that a concerted effort be made to encourage and facilitate the ratification of and accession or succession to international human rights treaties and protocols adopted within the framework of the United Nations system with the aim of universal acceptance.


The Rights to Peace as a Human Rights

The statement that human rights are a prerequisite of peace can have a weaker or a stronger form. Vojin Dimitrijevic stated in his work “Human Rights and Peace”  that it can be maintained that human rights are conducive to peace, but it can also be said that there is no peace without human rights. The latter statement can be interpreted as meaning that human rights are an indispensable condition for peace, which means that the separate value of peace cannot be attained without securing the separate value of human right,. However, the interpretation is also that peace cannot exist without human rights, where human rights are part of peace, where peace  is defined by reference to human rights, and peace and human rights merge in one value cluster. (Dimitrijevic, Vojin, “Human Rights and Peace”, 1998, P. 80-83)

The statement that there is a right to peace means that this right is already included in the catalogue of human rights or, rhetorically, that it must be immediately included in it. This right was solemnly proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in the Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace on 12 November 1984:

The General Assembly, Recognizing that the maintenance of a peaceful life for peoples is the sacred duty of each State,

1.      Solemnly proclaims that the people of our planet have a sacred right to peace;

2. Solemnly declares that the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a funda­mental obligation of each State. 


Human Rights as a Precondition for Peace

Ac­cording to Article 55 of the UN Charter, “universal respect for, and the observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms” is in­strumental in “the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations”. In its Preamble, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists, in the first place and before reasons related to justice, dignity and worth of the human being, the conviction of the General Assem­bly that 'recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the founda­tion of freedom, justice and peace in the world'. Similar wording appears in the identical first paragraphs of the Preamble of the two International Covenants on Human Rights. (Ibid)

The General Conference of UNESCO has been very fond of language indicating that “peace cannot consist solely in the absence of armed conflict but implies principally a process”, of progress justice and mutual respect among the peoples I ...I A peace founded on injustice and violation of human rights cannot last and leads inevitably to violence.


The Role of NGOs in Healing a Hurting World :  Agenda for Cooperation

According to the study made by Caritas International that the nature of conflict has changed radically over the last fifty years particularly since the end of World War II. A drastic consequence of this change is the enormous effect that war has on civilian populations. In World War I (1914-18) the number of civilian casualties was estimated at about five percent of total casualties. During World War II (1939-45) the number rose to almost fifty percent of all casualties. The setting up of the United Nations immediately after World War II was, at least in part, an attempt to ensure that such large scale genocide could never again happen. It did happen again and there is still no guarantee that it will not happen again in the future. (Internationalis, Caritas, 1999, P 10 - 15)

In Asian countries NGO and PVO’s have a long history of engagement in countries experiencing violent conflict and because of their long-term commitment and extensive in-country networks, they have considerable knowledge of local conditions and greater acceptability with indigenous populations than many national and international institutions.

NGO and PVO’s strengths, particularly in conflict situations, lie in the fact that they are relatively independent, they are non-bureaucratic, they are well informed and well connected. NGOs and PVOs are involved with grassroots organizations encouraging participation in political, economic and social life. They have an inbuilt flexibility that allows them to be innovative with responses and, perhaps most important, they have a long-term perspective to their programmes.

In Asia, NGOs and PVOs have been able to accomplish an enormous amount of good work because of the advantages they bring to conflict situations. Through humanitarian assistance in food, health and shelter, countless lives have been saved. Human rights advocacy has prevented repression, torture, detentions and deaths in many countries. Communities in post-conflict situations have been assisted towards rehabilitation and economic viability through reconstruction programmes. Many local agencies have acquired conflict resolution skills because of training interventions.


NGOs and Civil Society Cooperation in Peace Building and Conflict Resolution

In Indonesia and some other Asian countries NGOs and PVOs working primarily in humanitarian relief are becoming more and more aware of the need to incorporate a conflict resolution component into their regular programmes. In terms of a more comprehensive response by the international community to complex emergencies, this development is essential.

Because of their work in relief aid, NGOs and PVOs have direct access to the victims of violence. In intra-state conflicts not only are civilians used by factions as legitimate targets of violence but they also target the social and cultural institutions which connect those people to their history, identity and lived values.

NGOs and PVOs are in the good position to address the social impacts of conflict so necessary to conflict resolution at community level. Once their economic coping strategies have been removed, the most important coping mechanism for the victims of war is the social fabric of their society. The destruction of their traditional political and social institutions increases the sense of confusion, chaos, vulnerability and trauma among victims. (Internationalis, Caritas, Op Cit)

The basic principles of international humanitarian law are formulated in various international conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Civil and Political Rights Covenant, which bind all signatory (member) states.

We should be aware of the various documents within which international humanitarian law is enshrined, particularly in countries where laws are not adequate to guarantee the rights and security of its citizens. The following is a list of some of those laws that may be applicable.

1. Protection against Discrimination

a.      Universal Declaration of the United Nations  on the Elimination  of all Forms  of Discrimination against Women

b.      Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or One's Convictions

c.       International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.


2. Protection of Human Rights in the Administration of Justice

a.      Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

b.      Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners

c.       Code of Conduct for Law-Enforcing Functionaries

d.      Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary

e.       Basic Principles on the Function of Advocates

f.        Minimum Standards of the United Nations for the Administration of Justice to Minors

g.      Basic Principles of Justice for the Victims of Crimes and the Abuse of Power.


3. Cooperation in Working with Internally Displaced People

In Asian countries many local NGOs and PVOs work with internally displaced people (IDPs) during a conflict. Most of the work done at this stage focuses on various aspects of humanitarian assistance and normally includes the provision of shelter (camps), food, medicine, clothing, water and sanitation. Psychosocial response services may be needed as well as the development of coping mechanisms for war-affected people.

In many cases, conflicts are not static. They can change in nature very quickly, so the NGOs activities need to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes. Relief work must continue and some pre-emptive reconciliation work can be done in refugee/IDP camps which have a reasonably stable population. This work can include preparation for peace through:


1-  peace education;

2-  the formation of peace committees;

3-  working with local and traditional leaders;

4- building an indigenous capacity for coping with on-going conflict;

5-  strengthening local institutions for conflict resolution;

6-  exploring traditional and culturally appropriate reconciliation mechanisms;

7-  conflict resolution training activities with camp residents and camp personnel;

8- collaboration in peace programmes of other NGOs; (Internationalis, Caritas, Op Cit)


Cooperation in Strengthening Civil Society

Based on some experiences in Asian communities that at all stages of the progress towards peace it is vital to strengthen civil society. Communities experience a disintegration of many of the state institutions necessary for the smooth transition to democracy and peaceful society. Reforms are necessary within the political, economic and legal institutions of the country. The community must prepare for and monitor elections. A spent economy needs to be revitalized and displaced people need rehabilitation.

NGOs and PVOs can provide training facilities to help various elements of civil society in different activities such as :

1-  actively advocating for necessary reforms;

2-  voter education to counteract corruption and violence;

3-  planning and implementing elections;

4-  monitoring the democratic process and implementation of the peace accord;

5-  restructuring the justice system;

6-  working towards justice for victims;

7- participating in and assisting truth commissions. (Internationalis, Caritas, Op Cit)

Some efforts in this field are clearly underway. People to People, People to NGOs and NGOs to NGOs and other civil societies rejoinders to peace and human rights protection have brought successes in the case of peace accord and development and in the free election, like in Aceh, which should be further studied and developed.

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