Saturday, May 03, 2014

Human Rights Should Be Central to the Development Agenda

William Easterly has recently called for human rights to be placed at the center of the development agenda. This important statement is not a new one.

The United Nations created its Human Rights Council in 2006, upgrading the importance of human rights in its structure to the same level as the Security Council and the Social and Economic Council. Jimmy Carter, when he was president, put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy and development policy.

One of the first acts of the United Nations was to issue the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of one of our greatest presidents and the most famous women in the world at the time, headed the committee that drafted that Declaration. And one of the first things that the committee did was to ask UNESCO to determine if there was indeed a set of rights so widely shared that they could be seen as universal.

UNESCO asked leading intellectuals from many countries to address that question. The response was that, while different religions and different philosophical traditions explained human rights in different ways, there was a core of rights that were widely acknowledged.

Thomas Jefferson described those rights as well as anyone in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The first thing that the United States Congress did after it was created was to amend the Constitution, adding the Bill of Rights to implement those declared rights in law. So too, the United Nations has sought to create a network of international treaties (termed "Conventions") by which countries commit themselves to creating the legal framework to assure the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration.

Many Americans may be surprised that while our government has participated in the negotiation of these Conventions, it has failed to ratify such important ones as those on the rights of the child and on the rights of woman.

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