Accessibility links

Breaking News

Amnesty Calls for Implementation of UN Rights Charter

Amnesty International says many governments have failed to implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60 years after it was adopted, and owe the people an apology. In its annual human rights report, the organization looked at the record of 150 countries and found many of them wanting. From the London VOA News Center, Tendai Maphosa has this report.

The adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, Amnesty International says, was an act of extraordinary leadership. It was greeted with a lot of optimism following World War II.

Then U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was one of those who shared that optimism.

"This Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere," she announced.

Amnesty acknowledges that progress has been made in improving human rights standards, systems and institutions regionally and internationally. But for all those achievements, injustice, inequality and impunity still abound, it says.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan says many governments have failed to deliver the protection promised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Amnesty International is challenging world leaders to apologize for six decades of human rights failure and to recommit themselves to concrete action to bring about change," she said.

Khan says one of the most disturbing reverses is that the United States, along with other original signatories of the Universal Declaration, is not practicing what the document preaches.

"Torture and ill treatment are being promoted as acceptable forms of intelligence gathering by the US administration," she said. "The US was not the only culprit undermining these principles, fresh evidence emerged in 2007 of the complicity of several European Union member states but none of these countries have carried out any independent investigation, none of them have come clean or put in place the safeguards called for by the Council of Europe."

Amnesty accuses the United States of undermining human rights by practices such as secret detentions and interrogation of people without trial in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Baghram, in Afghanistan.

It also questions how the European Union can call for human rights in China or Russia when its member governments are complicit in torture. It also rebukes Europe for restricting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Turning to the emerging world powers, Amnesty says their governments should not only observe the human rights charter at home, but also use their influence to demand its implementation in other countries. Khan reminded countries such as China, Russia, India, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil that with political clout also comes responsibility.

Amnesty called for China to live up to the human rights promises it made before the Beijing Summer Olympics, allow free speech and end its program of forced "re-education through labor." To Russia, it appealed for greater tolerance of political dissent and an end to rights abuses in Chechnya.

On the positive side, Amnesty's Irene Khan says there is a growing popular demand for greater justice and equality that cannot be ignored by governments.

"If I look back at 2007, what I remember most are saffron-robed monks in Myanmar, what I remember most are the black-suited lawyers in Pakistan demanding justice, demanding equality, demanding the rule of law, demanding human rights," she said. "It was people on the streets that put governments to shame in 2007."

Amnesty International's senior director of global issues Claudio Cordone noted another positive.

"One thing that is important to highlight at the global level is the moratorium on the death penalty decided by the United Nations at the end of last year," he said. "For the first time there was a decision to ask for the death penalty not to be implemented anywhere in the world and that was a result of governments acting towards that and also governments acting under pressure from civil society."

People, Khan warned, are growing increasingly restless and demand the implementation of the 60-year rights charter. She said the governments that ignore them are acting at their peril.