Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I went to the UN Human Rights Commission and all I got were my rights violated*

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. - Elie Wiesel

It was probably on my second visit to the United Nations Human Rights Commission
that I understood the truth of the above statement. I had been spending the annual session of the Human Rights Commission representing the Centrist Democratic International and going to different meetings with activists and diplomats in addition to monitoring the actual session of the Commission I was loaded down with posters, fliers, and reports entering and exiting without a problem.

Then a member of Falun Gong handed me a flier for a parallel event they were holding in the same building in a room facing the UNHRC session. A short time later I tried to go through the security screening to enter the session and was told I could not enter with the piece of paper announcing the Falun Gong event. Mind you - I had pounds of paper and posters criticizing a number of governments including the dictatorship in Cuba - those were "ok" but not the Falun Gong flier. I asked for the guards supervisor who repeated to tell me choose: either leave the flier and enter or hang on to it and stay out. It was the end of the day, and I told him I had no desire to enter fuming with outrage.

The following day at the Falun Gong meeting in a room filled with human rights activists around the world to listen to the atrocities committed against this Chinese minority I told everyone of my experience the day before, and got a round of applause. I learned that many others had experienced the same outrage but had remained silent not wanting to rock the boat. This led me to ask - isn't your job as a human rights activist precisely to challenge injustice in a world filled with injustice?

A couple of years later when the UN Human Rights Commission was replaced by the UN Human Rights Council and some of the worse human rights abusers once again were in the new council. I stood outside of the United Nations in New York City with Cuban exiles and other demonstrators carrying a sign: "I went to the UN Human Rights Commission and all I got were my rights violated."

The argument of those who remained silent was that speaking out would not have made a difference that the Chinese were too powerful, etc. That is when I remember Elie Wiesel's observation above and am also chilled by the great poet William Butler Yeats and this portion of his epic poem resonated at the time and does today:
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

When you stop denouncing injustice and crimes that you have witnessed you have become morally complicit in their perpetuation.

The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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