In the most recent edition of The New Republic, Nobel Prize winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen argues for upholding the importance of the UN Declaration of Human Rights sixty years after its signing.
Sen argues that:
1) the UNDHR makes an important contribution to ethics by establishing the priority of morality to law. Human rights do not depend on governments to establish laws to enshrine them–they apply to human beings as such regardless of their nationality.
2) the UNDHR empowers many different kinds of organizations, not just governments and law, to protect human rights, such as international non-governmental organizations (Amnesty International, etc)
3) the UNDHR goes beyond many of the great documents protecting rights (such as the American Bill of Rights or the French Rights of Man and Citizen) by making explicit mention of social, economic and cultural rights, and tying issues of wealth and poverty to political and civil liberties.
4) the UNDHR, again unlike other rights documents, is explicitly universal in scope, with the hope of including within the sphere of moral concern many different groups that have been marginalized throughout history.
You can read his powerful defense of the UNDHR here.
The podcast of Ibrahim Gassama’s lecture is now available for free download at the OSU iTunes site. Launch iTunes and then go down to the Lectures and Courses icon to listen.
Professor Ibrahim Gassama gave a sobering assessment of the progress made toward realizing the economic and social rights embedded within the UN Declaration of Human Rights. For the original drafters of the UNDHR, political and civil rights were inextricably tied to the economic and social rights–issues of welfare, poverty, and social security were just as important as freedoms of political association, due process, and so on. However, for the past 60 years, the rights to food, shelter, health care, education, and work have been given second class status.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the UN acknowledged the reality of extreme poverty for about 1/5 of humanity: close to 1 billion people live with about only $1 a day at their disposal to satisfy all their needs. Another 2 billion or so live on about $2 a day. Dr. Gassama argues that such poverty is usually not thought of as a crisis, or dramatized as much as other human rights tragedies, such as wide spread torture or wars of aggression, but it is usually at the root of so many other political and military disasters around the world today.
Recognizing a lack of political will to address extreme poverty, the UN shifted its emphasis from rights to goals. That is, instead of insisting that human beings have right to various economic goods and standard of living which nations must provide, the UN set itself to urging the world community to meet several Millennium Development Goals by 2015. You can find out more about the MDG here.
Unfortunately, the world community has not done a very good job at committing itself to the MDGs, according to Professor Gassama. And with the global economic downturn enveloping both developed and developing nations, he finds its very unlikely that much will be done to alleviate grinding global poverty in the near future, and this does not bode well for peace and justice.
You will be able to download a free podcast of Professor Gassama’s full lecture in just a few days! Check back soon on this blog and share you thoughts with us about economic and social justice in the world today.
The Oregon State University Philosophy Department kicked off its 2009 Ideas Matter series with Bill Uzgalis’s lecture “How Human Rights Came About: Some History and Some Philosophy”.
Dr. Uzgalis before his talk
Dr. Uzgalis gave some background on how the United Nations developed as a response both to the failure of the League of Nations and to the atrocities of the Nazi regime during World War II. He then compared the modern notion of human rights to the doctrines of natural rights found in the work of John Locke, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
Dr. Uzgalis's Concluding Remarks
He concluded with some reflections about the obstacles to achieving human rights today, including the role of the United States as the largest weapons dealer in the world and as a supporter of dictatorships around the world. In particular, he predicted that the members of the Bush administration would face intense scrutiny for their flaunting of international law during the war on terror the past 8 years.
If you would like to hear Dr. Uzgalis’s talk, you can download a free podcast of his talk at the OSU iTunes store . Just go down to Lectures and Seminars and find the Ideas Matter Lecture series icon and you can start listening today! We also invite you to continue the discussion about human rights here on our blog.