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December 10, 1948—sixty years ago today—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born. Promulgated as the smoke of the death camps still lingered, the document was a stunned world’s attempt to enshrine human rights and dignity, to ensure that such “contempt for human rights” would never again “outrage the conscience of mankind.”

As Joseph Loconte observes in the Weekly Standard , human rights aren’t what they used to be:

Sixty years ago, when the United Nations was debating the creation of an international statement on human rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, then serving as head of the Human Rights Commission, delivered a caustic speech at the Sorbonne. “We must not be deluded by the efforts of the forces of reaction to prostitute the great words of our free tradition and thereby to confuse the struggle,” she said. “Democracy, freedom, human rights have come to have a definite meaning to the people of the world, which we must not allow to so change that they are made synonymous with suppression and dictatorship.”

. . . Mrs. Roosevelt’s fear about the perversion of human rights is on full display in the international community. More than half of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, the principal U.N. body charged with promoting human rights, fail to uphold basic democratic freedoms in their own countries. Using the canards of anti-colonialism and anti-Americanism, they block resolutions that might embarrass them on the world stage. Thus, some of the most egregious offenders of human rights—including China, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe—typically evade censure. Last week, for example, the Human Rights Council approved a resolution praising the Kinshasa government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose military stands accused of mass rape and murder . . . .

Where is Jefferson when you need him? When human rights are no longer considered the gift of nature and nature’s God, human dignity is made more vulnerable to assault. When repressive regimes are rewarded with membership and voting privileges in U.N. bodies, the entire human rights project is debased. The political result is that fundamental rights—the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion—become negotiable. In the end, they become disposable.

From this account of the U.N.’s tolerance of oppression, especially oppression of those persons most vulnerable and those freedoms most human, hope for the Declaration’s true success seems far-flung indeed.

But at least one world leader has solid ground for hope, even while reminding the U.N. members of their own mission to promote and safeguard a true human community of persons—to respect, in the face of moral relativism and perversion, the “natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations.” As Pope Benedict concluded his address to the U.N. general assembly last April: Peace and Prosperity with God’s help!



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