The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

At the end of 1948, shortly after World War II had ended, the United Nations convened in Paris to declare that every person across the world is entitled to certain inalienable rights. One of the Allies’ main goals during the war was to implement a number of fundamental freedoms for individuals. Many of these were later implemented into the more comprehensive Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR has changed slightly since the formal declaration was originally drafted in 1948. It was officially signed into international law by a satisfactory majority of United Nations member countries in 1976 as part of the International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR).

The IBHR also included the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The latter two international covenants were separated because member countries of the United Nations believed there was a stark difference between political rights and cultural rights. In addition to stating the rights of individuals regardless of state affiliation, it attempts to implement the rights in the countries that have ratified them.

The three parts of the IBHR contain a lot of similar verbiage including definitions of various freedoms, health standards and education. Leaders understood that changes would not happen overnight so provisions were written in to allow for “progressive realization” wherein countries would be recognized if they were taking steps to implementing standards.

While most UN countries adopted the UDHR at the time, there were some notable countries that did not. Saudi Arabia, a long-time ally of the United States, did not sign the agreement because it included provisions on freedom of religion.

Though the UDHR is not an official treaty, variations of its language have been used to create a number of international treaties. International Human Rights Day is held every year on the 10th of December in observance of the day the UDHR was signed into law.

A video animation of the UDHR can be seen below:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTlrSYbCbHE]

Eritrea and the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis

President_Isaias_Afewerk

On the eastern end of the the African continent in the Horn of Africa lies the State of Eritrea. The population consists of a variety of different ethnicities and most inhabitants are either Christian or Muslim.

The country is no stranger to violence, having been at war with Ethiopia and other neighboring countries at the end of last century and the beginning of this century. More recently, however, the country has seen extreme violence at the hands of President Isaias Afwerki.

A large proportion of Eritreans have fled the country because of the methodical injustice inflicted on thousands of Eritrean citizens. These human rights abuses include systematic torture, kidnapping, slavery and rape all at the hands of Afwerki and his government, which he has been in control of for nearly 20 years.

A human rights panel of United Nations officials has found that the situation in Eritrea slowly deteriorated after the country implemented mildly oppressive practices in an effort to curb violence in the 90s.

It has gotten so bad that hundreds of Eritreans are fleeing the country every day. This is not an easy decision to make either. The journey to Europe is perilous. It is estimated 2,000 people have died this year traveling the Mediterranean to Europe to escape Eritrea and other violent countries in region. Exact numbers are not available because often bodies of the perished are lost at sea.

This exodus from Eritrea was briefly met with more violence when security forces of the country were ordered to kill escaping citizens.

This year has seen record numbers of refugees coming from the region seeking refuge in Europe and it has become a huge problem for Greece and Italy. The number of Eritreans reaching these countries is only surpassed by Syrians who are also dealing with a grave human rights situation in their country.

Human rights organizations have not been allowed into the country and these abuses persist. European nations have to decide between granting Eritreans asylum or sending them back to Eritrea where they will likely be tortured or put to death.

Human Rights in North Korea

Party-Foundation-Monument-North-Korea

When Kim Jong Un came into power after his father’s death in 2011, very little was known about the young man. The unknown led to speculation that maybe he would be a reformer, after all he as a basketball fan and was educated in Switzerland. Unfortunately, the human rights situation has not improved and in many cases deteriorated.

North Korea is a highly secretive country and little is known about even its highest ranking member. In theory, the country has agreed to a number of human rights treaties and even gives rights to its citizens through a constitution. But there is little to no freedom in the country.

International human rights and other civil society organizations are not allowed in the country to keep the regime accountable. From within the country there is only one political party, one source for news and opposition to the status quo can be deadly.

All publications, television and radio are controlled by the state and even possession of outside broadcasts is illegal. Citizens aren’t even allowed to have cell phones to speak with friends and family outside of the country.

One of the only ways we are able to get information about North Korea is from defectors. Their stories are abhorrent not only for their brutality but also for their regularity. Prisoners are tortured through beatings, rape, sleep deprivation, and forcing prisoners to remain standing. Another common practice is to send prisoners to prison camps where they are forced to work for inhumane hours without pay.

These camps, that government officials deny exist, are replete with prisoners of conscience and their families. North Korea practices collective punishment. The immediate family of these prisoners are sent to prison camps, and in some cases even the grandchildren. Children working in horribly unsafe conditions is a regular sight in these camps according to defectors. Prisoners have very little clothing, are regularly executed and die from starvation.

The government’s repressive actions are meant to deter opposition. Threats of forced labor and the sight of public executions are commonplace. Defectors often leave their family behind to certain imprisonment. Travel outside of the country is illegal and border guards have the right to shoot escapees on sight. China does not recognize defectors as refugees and sends them back to North Korea. Any defector that is returned by China faces torture and forced labor.

The death penalty has become simply a formality in the country and can effectively be enforced for any crime because the laws around it are so vague. Kim Jong Un himself has employed the death penalty for a number of political foes and even an ex-girlfriend.

Even ordinary workers in North Korea are treated poorly and barely earn enough money to provide for their family. Workers are not allowed to organize and must accept horrendous working conditions.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) strategy to keep its stranglehold on the people’s mind is ineffective. Despite the threat of forced labor camps, and execution there is a vibrant black market and South Korean television is popular. The military at the border happily accept bribes to smuggle people out of the country and entertainment from flash drives and DVD’s. Defectors are constantly looking at ways to undermine the oppressive government with information.

In April of 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council opened an investigation into DPRK for “crimes against humanity”. North Korea has not cooperated with the UN and has denied all requests for visits from UN representatives. Though it will be difficult to hold the country accountable because they are constantly on the defensive with their military and are unresponsive to sanctions.