On Dec. 10, we commemorate United Nations Human Rights Day. Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the seminal international human rights instrument, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ratified in 1948.
Using the 2022 Human Rights Day theme—Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All—the UN will launch a year-long campaign to achieve a greater understanding of the “legacy, relevance, and activism” associated with the UDHR.
The UDHR’s preamble reflects FCNL’s own conviction that there is that of God in every person and that all creation has worth and dignity.”
In keeping with this theme, on this the 74th Human Rights Day, we examine the history of U.S. involvement in the development of the UDHR, how it connects to our values at FCNL, and some of the work that still needs to be done to comply with its principles.
Establishing an International Bill of Rights
Crafted in the aftermath of the Second World War, the UN conceived the UDHR as an international bill of rights. The United States was instrumental in the creation of the UDHR. Eleanor Roosevelt served as the UN Commission on Human Rights chairperson, the body charged with its drafting.
Today, the UDHR has been signed by all 193 UN member states. It is seen as a cornerstone of modern international human rights law.
In recognizing the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,” the UDHR’s preamble reflects FCNL’s own conviction that there is that of God in every person and that all creation has worth and dignity.”
The UDHR and U.S. Forever Wars
Despite its strong involvement in the UDHR’s inception, the United States has often struggled to live up to that legacy. This tension was evident in the U.S. response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In the years following 9/11, the United States committed numerous egregious human rights violations as it entered into wars across the world as part of the so-called “Global War on Terror.”
Justifying its actions under the legal authority of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the 2002 Iraq AUMF, the United States pursued the unlawful torture of terrorism suspects, detained individuals indefinitely in secret prisons, and conducted hundreds of drone strikes outside of recognized war zones, killing thousands of civilians.
Significant steps have been taken to bring the United States into compliance with the UDHR. The CIA’s torture program was shut down, and all secret prisons were ordered closed. Hundreds of men have been transferred out of the notorious detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The Biden administration has significantly reduced the number of U.S. drone strikes.
On this Human Rights Day, FCNL urges Congress and the administration to take concrete steps to end our forever wars and forge a path to peace.
But much remains to be done. The war on terror failed to eradicate terrorism. Yet the legal architecture of our forever wars remains, serving as a serious impediment to human rights worldwide. Congress just missed a critical opportunity to repeal the 2002 AUMF that sent us to war in Iraq and was used to justify the 2020 assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Meanwhile, the 2001 AUMF still functions as a blank check to sustain U.S. wars and other militarized counterterrorism activities across the globe.
The Biden administration has also continued the policy of conducting lethal strikes outside recognized war zones, a deeply problematic and unlawful practice that further entrenches the forever wars.
What Needs to be Done Next
On this Human Rights Day, FCNL urges Congress and the administration to take concrete steps to end our forever wars and forge a path to peace. Congress should repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF to prevent its further abuse and sunset the 2001 AUMF. President Biden should end the policy of extrajudicial killings outside of war zones and invest in critical non-military tools to deal with terrorism, including peacebuilding, diplomacy, development, and law enforcement. All cleared Guantanamo detainees should be expeditiously transferred, and the prison closed for good.
What we seek is not beyond imagination. Seventy-four years ago, in the aftermath of one of the greatest calamities in human history, nations from around the world committed to creating a world with peace and respect for the inherent dignity of all people. It is our job to make sure that commitment is honored.