Sunday, December 14, 2008

Remarks of the UN Secretary General to the Commemorative Session of the Human Rights Council on the 60th Anniversary of the UDHR

12 December 2008

Following are the remarks delivered by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the high-level segment of the commemorative session held by the Human Rights Council to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:"At the outset, I would like to thank the choir of the International School of Geneva for their beautiful musical performance.

They are the hope of our future, and we must work harder to provide a brighter future protecting and promoting their human rights. It is also very fitting that we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in this very important and meaningful chamber, the Chamber of Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations, so soon after it was officially opened.

On this sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I have a message to the peoples of the world:Congratulations!Mabrouk!祝贺 Zhùhè!Félicitations!Pozdravlyayu!Felicidades!From Abkhaz to Zulu, the Universal Declaration is the world's most translated document.

It is available in three hundred and sixty languages. Its tenets have been absorbed into the constitutions of many newly independent States and new democracies. Its words ring in every corner of the planet.

The Universal Declaration embodies groundbreaking principles: the universality of human rights, and their indivisibility.It enshrines the interdependence of security, development and respect for human rights.And it places a moral obligation on States not to pick and choose among rights and freedoms, but to uphold them all.

The Declaration's framers proclaimed the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. They unequivocally linked destitution and exclusion with discrimination. They understood that social and cultural stigma makes it impossible for people to obtain justice or participate fully in public life.The Universal Declaration was born following the utter devastation of the Second World War.

The international community drew ideals, principles and achievements from diverse cultures to form this foundation on which we have built a great tower of human rights law. We are still adding to this edifice. Just two days ago, the General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

This past May, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force. And last year, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was opened for signature.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of meeting one of the activists who pushed for the treaty against enforced disappearances. Her name is Estela Barnes de Carlotto. She joined a movement of Argentine grandmothers after her own daughter disappeared. Eventually she became a force for international action.I was deeply moved by her story. She is exceptional – but she is also typical of the human rights defenders on the frontlines of abuse who have risked their lives to ensure that others are protected.

It was the disabled persons who led the process of drafting the treaty on their rights.It was torture victims who stood up against the atrocities they had endured.And it was women who fought gender discrimination.

Today is also their day: a day to pay tribute to all the activists who refused to be silenced by their tormentors. Who knew that right must triumph over might. Who were inspired by the Declaration into elaborating specific laws that now protect countless people around the world.

The world did not adopt such an impressive list of human rights instruments just to put them on a shelf somewhere at the United Nations. These should be living documents that can be wielded by experts who scrutinize country reports or assess individual complaints.

Many delegates meet at the United Nations, but among the most passionate are the human rights experts. I have seen them start early in the morning, work through lunch and turn out the lights late at night. They are making the most of every single opportunity to protect human rights.

Today is their day, too.

Non-governmental organizations carry the banner as well. Whether working with states or in opposition to them, these groups are crucial in pressing for the rule of law and holding governments to their promises. They may be outspoken, but they are not out of line.

Today is also their day.

The press likewise deserves credit for bringing human rights abuses to light. Courageous journalists have risked and lost their lives to report on threats against others. This anniversary is a milestone for them, too -- a day on which to stress again the need for media to be free to do their job, and free fom harassment, intimidation and worse.

We have come a long way since the Declaration's adoption. But the reality is that we have not lived up to its vision – at least not yet. Abject poverty, shameful discrimination and horrific violence continue to plague millions of people. As we mark this milestone, we must also acknowledge the savage inhumanity that too many people in our world must endure.

There is no time to rest.This Council can have a tremendous impact. But you, its members, must rise above partisan posturing and regional divides. One way to do this is with continued vigilance in carrying out the Universal Periodic Review, which assesses the human rights records of all States. The Council must address human rights abuses wherever they occur.

The Council should also press countries to follow the recommendations of the independent experts and treaty bodies monitoring human rights. All Member States share a responsibility to make the Council succeed.

Member States should also do more to support the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since its creation fifteen years ago, the Office has grown from a fledging mechanism into an engine for change.

It has expanded its global presence, elevated the profile of human rights, and provided expert advice to States and within the UN system. And it has done so while preserving the independence and impartiality that are crucial for human rights work and advocacy.

I urge all Member States to strengthen support for the Office and the leadership of High Commissioner Navi Pillay.The Universal Declaration was created as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations".

Today is a day for all peoples in all countries to celebrate.

But it is also a day on which we must pledge that the work of human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations, experts, policy-makers, journalists and all people of conscience must continue until the timeless and universal principles in this Declaration become not just an inspiration or an aspiration, but the foundation of life for all of the world's people".

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The UN Secretary General Message on Human Rights Day

10 December 2008

On this Human Rights Day, we also celebrate the 60 th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Drafted amid utter destruction and destitution following the Second World War, the Declaration reflects humanity’s aspirations for a future of prosperity, dignity and peaceful coexistence.

Its adoption was a landmark. Today, the Declaration remains a core part of the UN’s very identity.

The challenges we face today are as daunting as those that confronted the Declaration’s drafters.

We face a food emergency and a global financial crisis.

Humankind’s assault on the natural environment continues.

There is political repression in too many countries.

And as ever, the most vulnerable continue to be on the frontlines of hardship and abuse.

The luckiest among us, those who are spared the most negative effects of disaster, poverty or instability, cannot turn a blind eye. The cascading effects of abuse and indifference can eventually engulf the entire planet.

Rights, and especially their violation, must hold the whole world in solidarity.

On this Human Rights Day, it is my hope that we will all act on our collective responsibility to uphold the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration.

We can only honour the towering vision of that inspiring document when its principles are fully applied everywhere, for everyone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Human Rights and the United Nations

Timeline: Human Rights Conventions

Al Jazeera

On December 10, 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its 30 articles have been enforced in international treaties, local human rights tools, national bills and constitutions. The following timeline is a review of the most significant conventions and declarations that marked the UN's role in the affirmation of human rights.

June 26, 1945: UN Charter is signed in San Francisco.

December 9, 1948: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

December 10, 1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

November 4, 1950: European Convention of Human Rights (Council of Europe).

January 12, 1951: Convention on the prevention of the crime of genocide.

July 28, 1951: Convention relating to status of refugees.

December 20, 1952: Convention on the political rights of women.

October 23, 1953: Protocol amending the convention to suppress the slave trade and slavery originally signed in Geneva, Switzerland on September 25, 1926, under the auspices of the League of Nations.

September 28, 1954: Convention relating to stateless persons.

September 7, 1956: Convention on the abolition of slavery, the slave trade, and institutions and practices of slavery.

June 25, 1957: Convention on the abolition of forced labour.

November 20, 1959: Declaration of the right of the child.

December 14, 1960: Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and people.

November 20, 1963: Declaration on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.

December 21, 1965: International convention on the elimination of all forms of racial
discrimination. A committee on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination established.

December 16, 1966: International covenant on civil and political rights - Human Rights committee established.

November 7, 1967: Declaration of the elimination of discrimination against women. Proclamation of Tehran – International conference on human rights.

November 26, 1968: Convention on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes against humanity.

December 20, 1971: Declaration of the rights of the elderly.

December 20, 1971: Declaration of the rights of mentally retarded persons.

November 30, 1973: International convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid.

December 9, 1975: Declaration on the rights of disabled persons. Declaration on the protection of all persons from being subjected to torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

December 9, 1978: Convention concerning migrations in abusive conditions and the promotion of equality of opportunity and treatment of migrant workers.

December 18, 1979: Convention on the Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination against Women. Committee on the Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination Against Women established.

June 27, 1981: African charter on hand people's rights (African Charter).

November 25, 1981: Declaration on the Elimination of All Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief.

December 10, 1984: Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

May 28, 1985: Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights established to monitor International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

December 4, 1986: Declaration on the right to development.

November 20, 1989: Convention on the right of the child. Committee on the right of the child established.

December 15, 1989: Second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – aimed at the abolition of death penalty.

August 5, 1990: Cairo declaration on human rights in Islam.

December 14, 1990: Basic principles for the treatment of prisoners.

December 18, 1990: International convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families.

December 18, 1992: Declaration on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. Declaration on the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic or religious or linguistic minorities.

June 14, 1993: World conference on human rights opens in Vienna.

December 20, 1993: Declaration on the elimination of violence against women.

December 21, 1993: International decade of the world's indegenous peoples proclaimed.

September 15, 1994: Declaration of the Arab charter on human rights.

December 23, 1994: International decade for human rights education proclaimed: 1995 – 2004

September 15, 1995: World conference on womens rights at Beijing.

April 3, 1998: Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.

December 7, 2000: Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union.

September 4-8, 2001: World conference against racism, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination in Durban, South Africa.

June 29, 2006: United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

May 3, 2008: Convention on the rights of people with disabilities came into force

Monday, December 1, 2008

Human Rights and HIV

Police-initiated testing? Let’s return to the rights-based approach!

by Melissa Ditmore

I’m sorry to be the bad fairy while most people feel good about our achievements on World AIDS Day. Sex workers in Mongolia and Macedonia have reported being forced to undergo HIV testing subsequent to being arrested. Sex workers are rightly indignant: forced testing is a human rights violation and has been condemned by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.

Sex workers are concerned because last week, The Lancet published
a study suggesting that early treatment for HIV may decrease HIV transmission. More research is necessary before this is acted upon, but early treatment requires being tested for HIV and having access to ARV medicines for HIV. Mass testing would be necessary before mass treatment can occur in order to determine to whom to give ARVs. However, mass testing is a very difficult undertaking, as demonstrated by the experiences of sex workers forcibly tested.

Lesotho recently tried to implement HIV testing on a mass scale, and
Human Rights Watch documented many pitfalls, problems and rights violations. Human Rights Watch and ARASA found that the campaign did not provide appropriate training and supervision for counselors conducting the testing, undermining the quality of the services provided, and that it did not adequately link HIV testing to follow-up prevention and treatment services. This presents problems for sensitivity and access to ARVs for those who may need them.

International bodies like WHO and UNAIDS have discussed provider-initiated testing, which should mean that a health care provider discusses the benefits and risks of testing for HIV and offers the test with appropriate counseling. Voluntary counseling and testing has not taken off in places where confidentiality may be compromised; this is one reason for the push toward provider-initiated testing. But sex workers rightfully question whether this will mean ‘police-initiated testing’ as experienced by in Mongolia and Macedonia.

Jonathan Mann promoted a rights-based approach to HIV-programming, which should not be abandoned for anyone least of all the most vulnerable people in our societies, including some sex workers.
Melissa Ditmore, Ph.D.
Sex Workers Project
Urban Justice Center

HIV/AIDS - The Right To Know

The Right to Know:
HIV/AIDS and Health Literacy

It has been more than 27 years since we first learned that a specific virus, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), was the causative agent of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and responsible for causing a worldwide pandemic; recently, Nobel prizes were awarded to French researchers, Luc Montagnier, Françoise Barré Sinoussi and Harald zur Hausen for their seminal work in the discovery of HIV. (Of note: Luc Montagnier has acknowledged the work of American, Robert Gallo for his work on HIV.)

According to the UN, approximately 33 million people are living with HIV and AIDS, and the number of new cases is growing, apparently at a greater rate than previously thought in both developing and the developed countries. For example, up until now it was believed that there were 40,000 new HIV infections annually in the US. But, based upon new blood tests which can differentiate between old and new infections, and more sophisticated statistical methods, current estimates from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) place the number at 55,000 (around 40% higher) and this seems to have been the case for the past several years. Using the new techniques, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) estimates that the number of those newly infected with HIV in New York City has been grossly underestimated; in 2006, the virus was shown to infect 4,800 persons, at a rate three times greater than the national rate.

Black and other ethnic minority members are disproportionately represented in new cases of HIV and AIDS; while only 13% of the US population is African American, they account for 50% of all new HIV cases, several times the rate seen in the white population; sixty-six percent of infants born with HIV in the US are black. Black women now represent 66% of new AIDS cases compared with 17% for white women, and 16% for Hispanic women. This represents a significant increase since 1987 when JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) reported the incidence of HIV/AIDS in 1986 as 6.7% for all women in the US, 51% of whom were black, and 20% Hispanic.

In large US cities such as NYC, LA and SFA Blacks living with HIV and AIDS in NYC are 2 ½ times more likely to die from their disease than whites. While vulnerable groups of all races/ethnicities including the homeless, injection drug users (IDUs), and those who engage in unprotected sex remain subject to the ravages of HIV and AIDS, being Black puts them at even greater risk than their white counterparts. Moreover, despite the advent of HAART (highly active anti-retroviral therapy) in 1996, a range of co-morbidities continues to plague those living with HIV and AIDS such as liver disease (hepatitis B, and C), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, TB, mental illness, malignancy, malnutrition and alcoholism. In addition, socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment, stigmatization, undocumented immigrant status, language barriers, a history of incarceration, sexual preferences such as men who have sex with men (MSM), and lack of, or failure to access medical care and low health literacy put these populations at even greater risk of HIV and AIDS.

And, while low health literacy re HIV/AIDS is prevalent in vulnerable populations, it is found at all levels of income and education:

In the early 80s, I attempted to recruit a prominent, upper Eastside ob/gyn to speak at a meeting on “Women and AIDS.” Pointing out of his office window to a tree-lined street with its pricey townhouses, and idling limousines he allowed as how his patients ‘don’t get AIDS,’ and questioned why he should speak why at the meeting. At the time, it was erroneously believed that HIV infection was primarily contracted by homosexual men, and male and female sex workers through unprotected sex. We now know that blood and blood products can also carry HIV which can then be transmitted via transfusion or needle-stick injuries, or through maternal transmission, and that income and level of education, race/ethnicity and sexual preference are not barriers to HIV infection.

A decade later, I enrolled in a doctoral level biology course and was asked to write a paper on two ‘viruses’ chosen from a list that did not include HIV. When I questioned my instructor, he opined that ‘not enough’ was known about the virus, and, asked whether ‘HIV would be a more suitable topic for a sociology course.’ I could not understand his naivety, given that the seminal work isolating the HIV as the causative agent of AIDS, and the elucidation of the structure of HIV had already been accomplished.

Just a year ago, a man accused of raping and infecting three women with HIV used as his defense the ridiculous notion that HIV cannot be transmitted through vaginal sex. Though a preeminent scientist supported his claim, the Court ruled in favor of the three victims.

It is therefore a paradox that while NYC has the greatest number of new HIV/AIDS cases in the country, as well as the largest population of those living with HIV and AIDS, basic knowledge of the disease, its causes, diagnosis and remedies seems to elude us at every level of society.

Moreover, the epidemic is disproportionately affecting the black and other ethnic minority community members. In light of this, the take home message for those concerned with human rights, is to pay heed to a disease that is, in the main, preventable, but nonetheless increasing in prevalence, emerging into new geographic areas and populations (in the US, women of color comprise the fastest growing population), and for which there is no vaccine or known cure.

It is simply incomprehensible that almost 30 years into the HIV/AIDS pandemic that not enough has been done to stem the tide of new cases, and properly address the problem through health education on care and prevention of HIV/AIDS. In addition, we need a new national plan to increase awareness of this dreaded disease. However, our taxpayer dollars seem to be headed elsewhere when one considers that the numbers of African Americans in the US living with HIV and AIDS is greater than those living with the disease in seven of the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) nations; at the 17th International AIDS Conference recently held in Mexico City, black leaders from the US called for the US to create a ‘domestic PEPFAR’ program.

One way to fight HIV/AIDS illiteracy is by keeping abreast of HIV/AIDS related information, and spreading the word through health education and community outreach programs.

Cynthia Racer, MA, MPH,
Past President American Medical Writers Association
(Metro NY Chapter);
Member: American Public Health Association;
Society for Public Health Education.