July Newsletter – Are Human Rights a “Western” Concept?

Photo credit: Repeating Islands
Some claim that human rights are a tool created and used by Western imperialists to impose Western values worldwide. We’d like to challenge this notion by sharing a little bit of background about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document developed to present a universal concept of human rights.

Why? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights came about as a result of the atrocities of WWI and WWII. Small countries and humanitarian and religious organizations wanted the Allied powers to live up to their war rhetoric and provide assurances that nations would never again allow massive atrocities to occur as they had during the past wars.

When and Who? In January 1947, the UN Human Rights Commission was established and included members from 18 nations: Australia, Belgium, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), Chile, China, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Lebanon, Panama, Philippine Republic, United Kingdom, United States of America, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Uruguay and Yugoslavia. The Commission created a drafting committee, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, and tasked with drafting an “international bill of rights.” This committee included men and women from eight (8) countries: Australia, Chile, China, France, Lebanon, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.

What and How? As part of the drafting process, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) formed a committee that included leading intellectuals, philosophers and political scientists to study the theoretical basis for human rights. A questionnaire was sent out to politicians and scholars soliciting their opinions on the idea of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The questionnaire asked for reflections on human rights from Confucianism, Islamic, Hindu, and customary law perspectives as well as from American, European, and socialist points of view. Replies came from Mohandas Gandhi, French Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, and Brave New World author Aldous Huxley.

In addition to UNESCO’s questionnaire, drafting committee staff studied all the world’s existing constitutions and rights instruments as well as suggestions sent to the Secretariat from members of the Human Rights Commission as well as those from outside organizations and individuals.

A list of 48 items that represented the common core of all of these documents and proposals was drawn up.  This list was essentially a distillation of nearly two hundred years of efforts to articulate the most basic human values in terms of rights.

In sum, it’s a stretch to claim that human rights are a Western concept considering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was shaped by:

  • officials from 18 nations representing Asia (East and West), Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America and a wide assortment of non-UN organizations and individuals;
  • reflections on Confucianism, Islamic, Hindu, customary law, constitutional law and various political views; and
  • studies by intellectuals, philosophers and political scientists to study the theoretical basis for human rights.

Want the full story about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the history of human rights as well as news about some human rights organizations that are walking the talk? Keep reading!

Read the July Newsletter | Click Here to Subscribe

May Newsletter- Men and Gender Equality: Who’s Doing What?

79156def-85d6-4da8-8ebc-0938ae454949

Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. And, yes, dear readers there are men who not only recognize the benefits of gender equality, but also actively promote it.

Too often gender equality is seen as a women’s issue. The term “gender” is used interchangeably with “women.” Gender equality programs often simply “add women and stir.” Gender justice becomes synonymous with women’s rights. To clarify this misunderstanding, we sought the assistance of Wikipedia (the fount of all wisdom…). According to Wikipedia, gender equality “is the state of equal access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender.”

Now that everything is crystal clear, keep reading to learn about some very impressive (and inspiring) initiatives where men and boys take the lead in promoting gender equality. They’re the GameChangers we love to see!

Read the May Newsletter | Click Here to Subscribe

March Newsletter – Food security and conflict

surya__2012_11_20_h11m5s58__GH_1_

Photo credit: dailykos.com

Think violent conflict occurs because of clashing ideologies? A weak economy? Too much corruption? Yes, it can. But it can also result from food insecurity. Remember when your high-school history teacher discussed how bread riots contributed to the French Revolution? Well that’s not just ancient history. Food insecurity still contributes to political instability and violent conflict today.

So, what is “food security”? According to the World Food Programme, people are considered food secure when they have availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. You’ll learn much more about food security — and insecurity — by perusing our recommended reads. The first one is a Boston Globe article that was actually published in 2015 Yes, it’s a bit dated, but we’re sharing it first since it’s a quick read that tells a good — albeit distressing — story about how food insecurity drove a revolution. For our readers who — like the GC360 team — really like quick reads, but also appreciate the deep thinking evident in academic papers and research reports, we’re also sharing two reports that dig into this month’s topic of food insecurity and its relationship to conflict.