Dec. 10 is “Human Rights Day,” established to annually commemorate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Prompted by the atrocities of World War II’s Holocaust, the UDHR today is considered the “foundational document of international human rights law.”
While this year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of its signing, unanimously achieved back then by the world community, it is important to note what has transpired since then as Muslim nations have sought to backtrack on the agreement’s original intent. Understanding this makes clear why a great divide exists – one incapable of being spanned, for it demands building a bridge too far.
The UDHR contains 30 articles. Article 1 pretty much sets the tone for the other 29: “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.”
Simply put, Article 1 makes it clear that ALL human life is equal.
On Dec. 10, 1948, the UN – holding only the third meeting since its creation – passed the UDHR. No negative votes were cast as, of the 58 member states at the time, 48 approved, eight abstained and two members failed to vote. Unsurprisingly, the latter 10 states included the USSR and countries under its influence, save for two: South Africa and Saudi Arabia. But even these 10, known human-rights abusers, determined they could not oppose the UDHR’s basic premise. Rarely since then has there been such unanimity in a UN General Assembly vote.
The chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights drafting the document, Eleanor Roosevelt, described it as humanity’s “Magna Carta.”
Unfortunately, however, a group of nations that should have used this “Magna Carta” as a building tool did not. Instead, they joined together in a ploy by which they claim adherence to the UDHR, unless one reads the fine print of their own, separate agreement.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), formed in 1969, is a group of 57 Muslim nations representing 1.6 billion people (as of 2008) as “the collective voice of the Muslim world” whose main aim is to protect and conserve the interests of the Muslim world. Under the tutelage of Iran, the OIC met to write its own human rights declaration, which was known as the “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights” (CDHR).
The CDHR contained 25 articles, the most telling of which are the first and last:
(a) All human beings form one family whose members are united by their subordination to Allah and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, sex, religion, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. The true religion is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity.
(b) All human beings are Allah’s subjects, and the most loved by Him are those who are most beneficial to His subjects, and no one has superiority over another except on the basis of piety and good deeds.
The Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.
The great divide between the UDHR and the CDHR is fairly obvious. While the UDHR is inclusive of all humanity, the CDHR limits equality only to those who are subservient to Allah and sharia. Should any reader of the CDHR be in doubt of this, Article 25 therein further underscores the point.
The unity the world community shared 70 years ago in recognizing that all human life is equal has been lost to a world in which humanity is all in the eyes of the beholder. The West sees human rights attaching at birth; Muslim states see human rights arising only for those worshipping Allah.
Sadly, it is doubtful either side will budge from the above positions, leaving the divide between them much too great to bridge.