OGDEN — All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Those are among the first of 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, largely in response to the genocide orchestrated by German leader Adolf Hilter during World War II.
Weber State University Political Science Chairwoman Nancy Haanstad handed out copies of the pocket-sized pamphlet to audience members Tuesday, when she spoke on the UDHR to an audience at Weber State.
Her talk was the cap on the Weber Reads series, this year focused on documents important to the founding and formation of America.
“States do not have the right to treat people as they wish without impunity,” Haanstad said, speaking of the nations of the world.
Haanstad told the Standard-Examiner the UDHR, and the treaties it spawned, are even more crucial today than when the declaration was first written.
“It’s incredibly important when you look at the world we are in today, compared with the world in post-World War II, particularly the idea that human rights could supersede state sovereignty,” Haanstad said. “Without it, states could do whatever they wished with their own people and territory. The idea of universal human rights flies in the idea of that, and constrains the states.
“When you see people like Joseph Kony, historically they could get away with whatever they wished. That no longer is the case, due to the process that started with the UDHR.”
Kony is head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan guerrilla group charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA is widely reported to have kidnapped thousands of children for use as soldiers and sex slaves. Since 1986, Kony’s troops have burned villages and killed residents, according to international news reports.
Haanstad said most nations had no problems accepting the first 21 articles of the UDHR, which dealt with basic human rights. Articles 22 through 30 dealt more with services humans should be able to expect from their governments, and spawned far more controversy.
The UDHR was written not as law, but as a code for governments to aspire to, Haanstad said. To enforce the guidelines, treaties had to be written and signed.
Most nations signed the first treaty, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Fewer signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“China joined the second treaty, but not the first,” Haanstad said. “The United States did the reverse. The one we didn’t join was about things the government is supposed to do for its people, and offers a more or less socialist perspective on human rights, and we have a problem with that. That is not our comfort zone.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the treaties it spawned have gained teeth only in recent years, Haanstad said, because it has only been in recent years that people who broke the rules could be punished. Since the 2002 establishment of the International Criminal Court, a permanent tribunal exists to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“Joseph Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court,” Haanstad said. “Thomas Lubanga has just had the first complete trial and conviction. It took 10 years before the I.C.C. had its first complete case.”
Lubanga founded and led the Union of Congolese Patriots, and led rebels who were accused of massive human rights violations, including ethnic massacres, mutilations, rapes, murders and forcing children to become soldiers for the cause. Lubanga, convicted last month by the I.C.C., faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.