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H.G. Wells and Human Rights

In Human Rights, Solidarity, Literature, United Nations, World Law, Being a World Citizen on January 21, 2023 at 8:42 PM

By René Wadlow

2023 will see a year-long effort leading to December 10, 2023, the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The effort carries the title “Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All”. Thus, it is useful to look at some of the intellectual preparations both within the League of Nations and among individual thinkers for the Universal Declaration. One of the most widely read was that of Herbert George (H.G.) Wells’ “Declaration of the Rights and Duties of the World Citizen” which is found in his book Phoenix: A Summary of the Inescapable Conditions of World Reorganization published in 1942. The Declaration of the Rights and Duties of the World Citizen had been translated into 10 languages and sent to 300 editors of newspapers in 48 countries.

H.G. Wells was concerned from the 1930s on with the ways the world should be organized with a world organization stronger than the League of Nations. Such a world organization should be backed up and urged on by a strong body of public opinion linked together worldwide by the unifying bond of a common code of human rights and duties.

At the end of the First World War, H.G. Wells was a strong advocate of the League of Nations, but as time went on, he became aware of its weaknesses. He wrote in 1939, “The League of Nations, we can all admit now, was a poor and ineffective outcome of that revolutionary proposal to banish armed conflict from the world and inaugurate a new life for mankind… Does this League of Nations contain within it the gem of any permanent federation of human effort? Will it grow into something for which men will be ready to work for and, if necessary, fight – as hither to they have been willing to fight for their country and their own people? There are few intimations of any such enthusiasm for the League at the present time. The League does not even seem to know how to talk to the common man. It has gone into official buildings, and comparatively few people in the world understand or care what it is doing there.”

Thus, there was a need for a clear statement of world values that could be understood by most and that would be a common statement of the aspiration on which to build a new freedom and a new dignity. Wells had a strong faith in international public opinion when it was not afraid to express new and radical thoughts that cut across the conventional wisdom of the day. He wrote in 1943, “Behind the short-sighted governments that divide and mismanage human affairs, a real force for world unity and order exists and grows.”

Wells hoped that the “Declaration of the Rights of the World Citizen” would become the fundamental law for mankind through the whole world – a true code of basic rights and duties which set out the acceptable shape of a just world society.

Wells set out 10 rights which combined civil liberties already common to many democratic states with economic and social rights which were often considered as aspirations but not as rights. Thus, among the 10 rights we find the Right to Participate in Government, Freedom of Thought and Worship, the Right to Knowledge, Freedom from Violence including Torture, along with the Right to Education, the Right to Medical Care, the Right to Work with Legitimate Remuneration, the Protection of Minors, Freedom of Movement about the Earth.

The drafters of the United Nations (UN) Charter in 1945 included a pledge by member states “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small.” Much of the debate from 1946 when the UN Commission on Human Rights was created until December 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed concerned the relative place of civil liberties and of economic, social, and cultural rights.

While the text of H.G. Wells is largely forgotten today, he had the vision of the strong link between freedom of thought based on civil liberties and the need for economic dignity set out in the economic, social, and cultural rights.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

UN Human Rights Rapporteurs Concerned by Rape, Forced Conversion and Marriage to Rapists in Pakistan

In Human Rights, Current Events, Solidarity, Asia, United Nations, World Law, Cultural Bridges, NGOs, Track II, Spirituality on January 21, 2023 at 8:41 PM

By René Wadlow

The Human Rights Council, building on the earlier practice of the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights, has a number of Special Rapporteurs devoted to certain themes – usually specific violations of human rights – or to specific countries. These Special Rapporteurs are independent experts selected by the Council. They usually report their findings at each session of the Council. When violations concern more than one issue, there can be joint Reports to the Council or joint Appeals to a government. Such a collective Appeal to the government of Pakistan sent on October 26, 2022 was made public on January 15, 2023.

The joint Appeal by six Special Rapporteurs concerned the sequence of rape of young women, forced conversion to Islam, followed by marriage to the rapist. The Appeal was led by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Special Rapporteur on Sexual Exploitation of Children, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls, and the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. The subject of the Appeal is not new, having been raised previously by Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs), including by the Association of World Citizens (AWC).

However, the Appeal by the Special Rapporteurs clearly identifies a systemic problem on which the Pakistani government has failed to act. The girls raped are usually minors under 18 years of age and belong to Hindu and Christian minorities of the country, often rural and poor. Most Christians in Pakistan are converts from low caste or “untouchables” (Dalit) Hindus. Seeing no future within the Hindu-influenced caste system, they converted to Christianity which has no caste structure. Most of the Pakistani Hindus and Christians are illiterate and have little or no political influence.

A peace tour arranged by different social activists and minority rights activists in Lahore, Pakistan, with the participation of Muslim, Christian and Hindu youth. (C) RedMiNote

The Pakistani police and the court employees are agents of these human rights violations. Illiterate parents sign with a thumbprint document that they do not understand and are then filled in by the police to attest that the girl is older than 18, the legal age for marriage. If the girl or her family agrees to the marriage with the rapist, the rapist cannot be arrested and tried for the rape. As the practice takes place usually in rural areas, there are few if any NGOs to take up the specific cases. Urbanized Christian groups in Pakistan have made some protests of the practice but are often unaware of the specific rural cases.

NGOs have brought evidence of the practice to the attention of the Geneva-based Special Rapporteurs. When a human rights violation is given to the UN human rights secretariat, it is sent on to the Geneva-based Ambassador of the country mentioned. The Ambassador may not reply at all or more usually will reply saying that the facts are incorrect or deliberately misleading. However, as in the Pakistani case, the evidence piles up. In this current situation, there is, two months ago, a newly appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, formerly UN Undersecretary-General for Policy. The Special Rapporteurs may have wanted to see how he will act on violations of a powerful country. The situation in Pakistan merits close watching.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

World Citizens Strongly Protest Public Executions of Demonstrators in Iran

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, World Law on January 8, 2023 at 8:46 PM

By René Wadlow

“I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for death. I am not on his payroll. I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends nor of my enemies either”.

–Edna St-Vincent Millay, U. S. poetess.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has repeatedly called upon governments for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty – a penalty that extensive research has shown has little or no impact on the level of crime and too often opens the door to judicial errors and injustice. In addition to State-sponsored official executions, usually carried out publicly or at least with official observers, a good number of countries have State-sponsored “death squads” – persons affiliated to the police or to intelligence agencies that kill “in the dark of the night” unofficially. These deaths avoid a trial which might attract attention or even a “not guilty” decision.

The January 7 hanging of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22 years old, and Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, 39, by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran is an obvious effort to crush dissent and demonstrations which have shaken the authorities, set off by the death of Mahsa Animi in September at the hands of the morality police.

The January 7 hangings follow the December hangings of Moshen Shekari and Majidreza Rahmavd, both 23 years old. 14 other persons have been sentenced to death and are at imminent risk of execution – mostly young men. More than 40 persons are facing charges that could carry the death penalty. The four persons hanged did not have fair trials, and the court-appointed lawyers had no time to prepare a defense. The AWC is devoted to universal application of human rights law which includes fair trials and adequate defense – trials carried out with established international norms.

A public execution in Parsabad, Iran on September 20, 2017. (C) Mohsen Zare/Tasnim News Agency

Kenneth Patchen’s (1911-1972) clear words have been a credo for the AWC, opposed to executions on moral grounds:

    “This is a man

     he is a poor creature

     you are not to kill him

     This is a man

     he has a hard time

     upon the earth

     You are not to kill him”

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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