Skip to content or view screen version

60 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Keith Parkins | 26.11.2008 16:30 | Repression | Social Struggles | Terror War

Tuesday evening 25 November 2008 Amnesty International hosted an evening of talks, music and video clips in Holy Trinity Church top of the cobbled High Street in Guildford to mark 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to ask the pertinent question: How much has been achieved?

Bruce Kent
Bruce Kent

Laudamus Chamber Choir
Laudamus Chamber Choir

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, like the United Nations, World Bank and IMF, came into being in the immediate aftermath of the ruins of the Second World War. We had learnt the bitter lessons, we were to build a better world. Have we? That is what we were to hear.

It was a very cold night. God kept turning up the air conditioning, or at least cold air kept wafting by me. The church got colder and colder and by the end of the evening I was sat in my seat shivering.

The evening was very well attended. The church was almost full. Not quite as full as a previous event in the same venue the month before when Tariq Ali gave a talk during the Guildford Book Festival, but still a very good turnout.

Bruce Kent introduced the evening. It was a very grave disappointment that he was not allocated a greater length of time, as no sooner had he got into his stride, talking about Control Orders, that you can be held as a terrorist suspect, possibly on rumour and gossip, not even told why you are held, and his time was up.

Gill Hinchelwood spoke of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (an organisation that should not even exit if countries honoured their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) how the organisation was set up, the work it does.

Carole Seymour-Jones spoke on PEN, its long history ( I was surprised to learn it was set up as long ago as 1921) and the work PEN does. PEN intervenes like Amnesty International, but on behalf of poets, writers, journalists. PEN was founded in England, and like Amnesty International, is now a worldwide organisation. PEN orchestrated the worldwide campaign that forced the release of the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk.

If you read the novel Snow, it is easy to see why Orhan Pamuk has not endured himself to the Turkish state, especially when he talks about the treatment of Kurds and dares to mention the genocide the Turks carried out of the Armenians. The worst atrocities of the last century was not the attempted extermination of the Jews by the Nazis or the killing fields of Cambodia by Pol Pot, it was the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks, Europe was too exhausted from the First World War to intervene.

With My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk succeeded in upsetting Muslim fundamentalists.

To tell the truth is too often to pay a terrible price. A Nigerian writer hanged, a Russian journalist gunned down by contract killers, a Chinese blogger jailed, A Turkish writer put on trial, a Tibetan filmmaker disappeared.

Andy Worthington talked of Guantanamo, how it functions, the illegality, that it is a clear breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Prisoners should either be criminals, fairly tried and sentenced or awaiting trial or POWs captured in war who are then not interrogated, not tortured. Those held at Guantanamo fall into neither category. During the First Gulf War, field tribunals were held, this formed a screening process. No screening process has taken place for those held at Guantanamo. Many have been picked up as a result of the US offering a $5000 bounty.

Bruce Kent wrapped up the proceedings. He said we should look at what is happening at home, our loss of freedoms.

Deborah Haynes, Times Iraq correspondence, couldn't make it and sent her greetings and apologies. Caroline Lucas MEP could not make it either and sent a video greeting.

Video clips and Laudamus Chamber Choir interspersed the speakers. Laudamus Chamber Choir entertained with a very wide repertoire from Baroque through freedom songs to Les Miserables.

One of the video clips was by Camcorder Guerrillas. I have seen it before at either last year's or the year before BeyondTV International film festival. It looks at the forced removal of Asylum Seekers, the dawn raid, the impact it has, not on the family taken away but on their friends and neighbours.

Another video clip was a brilliant animation, I think from Amnesty International France. Ideal for showing at BeyondTV.

Another pretty horrific video clip showed water torture or what the CIA like to call water boarding. It is not, as Andy Worthington pointed out, simulated drowning, it is real drowning.

It was unfortunate that the programme gave no mention or further information on the video clips shown.

A very thought provoking evening. Unfortunately no time for questions. Neither were the speakers available beforehand to chat to.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something all countries have signed up to, but few comply with. It is not just the usual suspects like Iran, Congo, Burma, China (that tortures Tibetans as well as Chinese), Turkey, but also the UK and US.

Bruce Kent in his summing up made a very valid point. How many people are aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, how many know what its says? A document that like the US constitution draws on our own Magna Carta. Every school, college, club, workplace should have a copy on A4 or A3 posted up in a very prominent place. Something we can all do something about.

Instead of all these silly Bank Holidays, should we not have one dedicated to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Some key articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

- All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights
- Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person
- No one shall be held in slavery or servitude
- No one shall be subject to torture or to cruel or, inhuman or degrading treatment
- Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression
- Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution

Everyone is urged to sign the declaration: Every Human Has Rights!

Worth watching, a talk John Pilger gave in Chicgo last year.

Monday evening 8 December 2008, Amnesty International will be hosting a greeting card signing session to political prisoners around the world with Christmas Festivities including drinks and eats to celebrate Human Rights Day. This will take place at St Nicolas Church in Guildford, bottom of the High Street across the river.

As one of the video clips said, your signature can mean freedom.



Noam Chomsky, Failed States, Metropolitan Books, 2006

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, Penguin, 2008

Latuff, The Gaza Ghetto, Indymedia UK, 26 November 2008

Orhan Pamuk, Other Colours, Faber and Faber, 2008

Keith Parkins, Guildford Book Festival 2008, Indymedia UK, 21 October 2008

Keith Parkins, The surveillance state, Indymedia UK, 10 November 2008

Keith Parkins, Free Tibet in Guildford, Indymedia UK, 11 November 2008

Keith Parkins, UK recognises Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, Indymedia UK, 17 November 2008

John Pilger, Freedom Next Time, Bantam Press, 2006

Arundhati Roy, The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, Flamingo, 2004

Russia murder trial judge queried, BBC news on-line, 25 November 2008

Mark Thomas, As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela, Ebury Press, 2006

Mark Thomas, Belching Out the Devil, Ebury Press, 2008

Andy Worthington, The Guantanamo Files, Pluto Press, 2007

Muhammad Yunus, Creating a World Without Poverty, PublicAffairs, 2008

Keith Parkins
- Homepage:


Display the following comment

  1. ID Card rollout meets resistance — Keith