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Did You Know?

Human Rights: Did You Know?

The term human rights basically means that every individual should share and enjoy the same freedoms and fundamental rights — in other words, the fact that you exist as a human being means that you have the right to life itself, which includes those things needed to survive such as food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. The human rights concept can actually be traced to ancient times; for example, the Ten Commandments, which prohibit murder and theft, thereby recognizing the right to life and property.

The old adage, “treat others the way you would like to be treated” can also apply to a discussion on human rights. It is only when the rights of others are taken away, or abused, disregarded, and ignored that human rights becomes an issue. Unfortunately, the rights of humans have been violated since the beginning of time. Legal documents such as the British Bill of Rights (1689), the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776), and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) all included a number of fundamental rights and freedoms for individuals.

It was not until 1948 though, as a result of the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II, that an actual resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to protect the rights of all humans in the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) urged all countries to promote a number of human, political, economic, and social rights stating that these rights are “part of the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”

In 1944, only four years before the UDHR resolution and again because of the Holocaust, that a lawyer, Raphael Lemkin introduced the term genocide to describe Adolph Hitler’s policy to persecute and exterminate a particular group of people, killing more than 6 million Jews. The Greek root word geno- means family or tribe and -cide means to kill, hence, the word genocide. In 1951, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide came into force as international law, making genocide a crime. The Convention defined genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.” (Ethnic cleansing is another term, which is often associated with genocide.)

Since the time that these two famous documents (UDHR and the Convention) were created, there have been other acts of genocide, and many other abuses of human rights, from war crimes and torture to the growing number of weapons of mass destruction (for example, nuclear bombs, chemical and biological warfare), landmines, and cluster bombs; from child soldiers to refugees; from women and children’s rights to terrorism; unfortunately, the list goes on an on.

Lesser Known Facts

According to international law, the definition of war is an armed conflict between two or more governments or states. A more common definition is a large, prolonged conflict among political or ethnic groups. In an era of medical breakthroughs, no cure has yet been found for war. (National Geographic)

Genocides and other mass murders killed more people in the twentieth century than all of the wars combined.

From 1857 to 1867, Russian soldiers systematically removed Circassians and Caucasians from villages and during the Caucasian War, more than 400,000 Circassians were killed or starved to death.

Through massacres, death marches, and forced deportations, Turks eliminated 2 million Armenians living in Turkey from their historic homeland from 1915 to 1917.

From 1932 to 1933, Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union caused a famine, which resulted in 7 million Ukrainians starving to death because of his forced Collective Farm System — the farmers could not eat the food that they had grown from a collective farm until the government’s procurement quota was reached. This meant that the peasant farmers had to give Stalin’s government a certain amount of food determined by the government before they could eat it themselves.

In 1933, there were more than 9 million Jewish people in Europe. By 1945, the Nazis had killed almost two out of every three European Jews.

The Nazis did not only target Jews, they also killed homosexuals, mentally and physically disabled people, political opponents, Gypsies, people whose religion they did not agree with or accept (for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses), and more.

About 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel after the Holocaust.

In 1941, in reference to the atrocities being committed by the Nazis, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated that “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” (Three years later, lawyer Raphael Lemkin introduced the term genocide.)

In 1945/1946, the Nuremberg Trials that took place in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice in Germany, tried 22 Nazi leaders on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against peace, and conspiracy to commit these crimes. Two judges from each of the Allied Powers presided over the trials, the first where international tribunals were used to hold national leaders responsible and accountable for their actions.

In 1972, a Hutu-led coup resulted in the murder of 100,000 to 200,000 Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi, Central Africa.

From 1975 to 1979, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot attempted to form a Communist peasant farming society in Cambodia, which resulted in approximately 1.7 million deaths from starvation, executions, and being overworked.

From 1975 to 1979, the Indonesian military used starvation, along with napalm and chemical weapons, to exterminate the people of East Timor, killing 150,000.

In 1988, in Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s regime conducted the al-Anful Campaign, a genocidal campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq. Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed “Chemical Ali” for his role, led the Campaign in gassing civilians: 2,000 villages were destroyed and 50,000 to 100,000 people were killed. In 2007, Ali and four others received sentences ranging from death to life imprisonment for their role in the killings.

From 1992 to 1995, the conflict between Serb, Croat, and Muslim ethnic groups in the Republic of Bosnia–Herzegovina led to genocide committed by the Serbs in which tens of thousands Bosnian Muslims were killed — in one small town, Srebrenica, 7,800 Bosnjiak men and boys were murdered. The Bosnia events were labeled as ethnic cleansing.

In 1994, over a period of 100 days, the Hutu militia killed 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda using machetes and clubs.

Refugees flee their country because of fear (of persecution, threats, war, and more).

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the following countries had the largest amount of refugees: Iran (1.8 million); Pakistan (1.2 million); Germany (976,000); and the United States (513,000).

Darfur, a region of western Sudan has been under siege by militia, who are brutalizing its citizens and destroying their villages; more than 10,000 people have been killed and an estimated 1 million have been displaced, in one of the greatest humanitarian crises of current times.

Landmines are designed to severely wound rather than kill their victims. At the end of the 1990s, approximately 15,000 to 20,000 people had been wounded by landmines; because of worldwide efforts that number has gone down and it is now estimated that about 5,700 occur a year — still to many.

More than 75 countries are affected by landmines but no one knows exactly how many are in the ground, the most landmine-contaminated countries include: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Chechnya, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

For over 40 years cluster bombs have killed and injured civilians during and after conflicts. Unexploded cluster bombs continue to kill and injure for days, months, even decades after a conflict.

Every year nearly 1 million young children and women are sold into sexual slavery. Nearly 30% of the victims are between the ages of 9 and 15, and some are as young as 5 or 6 years old. A US$12 billion industry, protected by corrupt officials and an indifferent public, it continues to grow.

Two to four million young women and children will be sold into slavery in the next 12 months.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for nonmedical reasons. An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa, about 3 million girls are at risk for FGM annually.

The United Nations estimates that this year, at least 5 million people will need food aid in Zimbabwe.


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