By Doris Abdullah
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” –Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
On Dec. 9, 2021, the NGO Human Rights Committee gathered to Honor the 73rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was my first United Nations in-person meeting since the COVID-19 March 2020 shutdown.
Sadly, the pandemic has increased the threats and challenges to human rights around the globe. COVID’s deadly attacks increased the misery of the most marginalized persons globally and in our own country. Older persons, the disabled, and those in low-paying jobs with limited resources and health care are suffering the worst. The pandemic continues to compete with growing white supremacist groups, racism, antisemitism, and nationalist militarist thugs who bring terror and death in many countries.
The Declaration of Human Rights delineates the freedoms from torture; slavery; cruel and inhumane conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence; and attacks upon a person’s honor and reputation–to name a few of the 30 articles.
Anti-human rights groups exploit the power imbalances between people and make it hard to defend human rights. They turn the human rights language upon itself. For example, human rights defenders who dare call out the treatment of women or journalists in Saudi Arabia are called “Islamophobics,” and defenders of Palestinians who are abused by the government in Israel are called “anti-Semitic.” We all know the difference between being against a government policy treatment of women or a minority people, and being against a people because of their gender, political leanings, race, or religious group, but truth is not the goal of the abusers of human freedoms.
We were addressed by human rights defenders and survivors as well as staff from the New York office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR). The deteriorating conditions of the Uyghurs in China and Christians in Myanmar (Burma) were highlighted. The number of Uyghurs held in camps, detained in prisons, taken and never returned home, or just disappeared were given at 9 million and seem to be mostly men. Those reporting to the meeting said that Uyghur homes were entered by authorities and stripped of all religious materials, and women in those homes were abused and reported as non-compliant if they did not submit to whatever the military men required of them. Non-compliant women and girls disappeared as well.
Constant surveillance and limiting communications to the outside are the main tools of the Chinese government to control Uyghur movement and access within China. The misuse of technology to control people through surveillance and tracking is another threat to human rights, as are killer robots and media misinformation–not just in China, but in many industrial and non-industrial countries alike.
As in China, freedom of religion and association is not respected or allowed in Myanmar (Burma). Before the military coup last year, the ongoing targeted group were the Rohingya Muslim minority. Many Rohingyas went to the neighboring country of Bangladesh and thousands were killed in country. Now it is the Christians in Myanmar who are being target for abuse and killing.
This gives added weight to the 19th century German sociologist Max Weber’s theory that they will come for you when they run out of other groups to target. In other words, none of us are free if our neighbor is not free. We are all in this world together and should not tolerate abuse of any group over another group.
Let us continue our struggle for universal human rights in peaceful deeds of advocacy.
–– Doris Abdullah is the Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations. She is a minister at First Church of the Brethren in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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