The 10th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy convenes in Switzerland tomorrow on February 20, 2018 at 9:00am and is open to the public. The opening address will be given by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), who has revived the relevance of the OAS by calling attention to the unfolding crisis in Venezuela and taking leadership in pursuing solutions.
There is still much more to do.
Over the past decade human rights have been in decline worldwide and democracy in recession. Long time democracies, such as Venezuela, and Turkey have slid into dictatorship. Communist China is ascendant offering an alternative development path without freedom.
In 2013 I was thinking of the failures of states and the Human Rights Council to defend and protect human rights. Now with the Oxfam scandal realize that even NGOs can also fail abysmally.
When even Amnesty International gets caught up in scandal, shoddy dealings and violating its own commitment to freedom of expression. One looks around at the crisis of institutions: international organizations, government, civil society, and religious institutions all with scandal and challenges.
Andrew MacLeod, who was chief of operations at the United Nation’s Emergency Coordination Center, estimated in The Times on February 14, 2018 that UN staff in the past decade carried out 60,000 rapes "with 3,300 pedophiles working in the organization and its agencies." The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is in the midst of a scandal with former UNICEF consultant Peter Newell who was jailed for raping a 13 year old boy.
The international human rights consensus has been shattered while contradictions have emerged that threaten its very foundations.
If human rights are to regain their relevance and end its worldwide decline then all parties (and this includes religions) must be invited to the table and not censored beforehand because it does not serve a particular political agenda. Furthermore the right to life, enshrined in both Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man should apply to all, at all stages of life. Competing rights claims need to be weighed and measured carefully, but recognizing the transcendent importance of the person.
Finally, human rights defenders instead of focusing on what divides us by race, sex, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and religion should seek to recognize our common humanity with a focus on the dignity of the person. Identity politics is a dangerous and divisive dead end.
The change for the better begins with each one of us and the challenge to be better and to do better. This also means a return to first principles and a rejection of identity politics. Everyone must be welcome to the conversation regardless of background and ideas and arguments should rule the day.
It is time for self-examination and a reawakening to the consensus achieved 70 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. The Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy is a space where this conversation is taking place and can lead to important and positive changes over the next decade and beyond.