Interact: Social Edge Daily Blog with Dave JohnsonDave Johnson's blog from the 2007 Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum is being posted concurrently on socialedge.org and on this site.
Prevention of Human Rights Violations
The working sessions of the conference discussed how to address three stages of mass atrocities: before, during and after. I attended an off-the-record discussion of the "before" stage, when the participants talked ab
out the warning signs, or signals, that indicate a country may be heading toward human rights violations. The conference has now released a document on this topic that I can use to determine what is on the record.
There are signs that a society is heading in a very wrong direction, and I would like to emphasize a few of them here. One of the strongest common factors discussed was that the media - information channels - begin to act in collusion with the leadership, with a goal of inflaming and polarizing public opinion. What we would call "hate speech" becomes common. Another signal is when leaders begin encouraging a mentality of victimhood in a target population. "Those xxx's are getting the best food, taking our jobs ... whatever." At some point the dissenters and human rights defenders become identified as "the enemy" for pointing out abuses as they start to occur.
These things are not necessarily done with a goal of human rights violations in mind, but rather to gain or consolidate political or economic power. The trouble is, these things can rapidly escalate and become a norm, and then an expectation. A polarized, inflamed population can begin to demand ever-harsher solutions to the perceived threat.
We have even seen it happen in modern, civilized societies. Let's make sure it doesn't happen here.
From the document:
Prevention of Mass Atrocities
The media can play a negative role in inflaming ethnic, religious, or nationalist tensions to create a sense of siege and victimization. In Serbia, for example, intellectual, cultural, and religious elites played a role in producing a mentality of victimhood. When atrocities then break out against minorities, the majority community has no empathy or sympathy.
Weak political leadership is unwilling to challenge extremist voices, and even seeks to tap in to chauvinistic sentiment to their own advantage. That obstacle is often compounded by a weak civil society, especially in post-authoritarian societies, which cannot counter intolerant, supremacist ideas. As polarization increases, human rights defenders frequently experience extreme insecurity that impairs their ability to function.
Faith-based and religious institutions, while potentially a voice of reason and compassion in an escalating conflict, can became equally culpable in creating the victim mentality and inflaming public opinion. With sufficient leadership and commitment, however, religious institutions can overcome a crisis of values and answer the call to justice inherent in many faiths to stand with the oppressed.
The failure or corruption of state institutions, including the police, military, intelligence services, judiciary, and legislature, is frequently responsible for the outbreak of conflict, as is the failure to take action by the international and regional agencies and states.
[. . .]
Prevention of Mass Atrocities
1. Monitor media output and challenge hate speech and incitement when they occur. Promote an independent and diverse free press. Build community radio and other alternative media as one way to communicate with people despite media control. Train journalists in human rights and defenders in media skills.
2. Encourage religious leaders to have a moderating influence on their own faith communities in areas of conflict.
3. Build the capacity of NGOs at the local level to monitor violations by the judiciary, parliament, police, military, intelligence services, and non-state actors. Train NGOs to enable them to lobby for implementation of and compliance with existing laws that protect human rights.
4. Make full use of all diplomatic pressures and sanctions to deter states and individual officials from actions that exacerbate conflict or that constitute violations. Such measures include targeted sanctions, diplomatic isolation, arms embargoes, naming and shaming, trade embargoes, and boycotts of industries that benefit authoritarian elites, such as tourism. However, sanctions should primarily focus on political rather than economic levers to avoid harming disadvantaged groups.
5. Provide incentives for states to uphold human rights and take other measures to step back from the brink of inter-communal conflict. Such incentives, as found in the E.U. accession criteria, reward respect for civil liberties, equality of women, non-discrimination, and good governance.
That ends my postings on the Carter Center Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum. In a couple of weeks I will be blogging from the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative. Please visit, leave comments and join the discussion.
More To Come - And A QuestionThe conference is ending, but that's when the discussion begins. I will be posting more here in the next few days, so please check back. I have had some interesting and provocative conversations.
For now I have a question. Why is the Carter Center holding a conference on Faith and Freedom to discuss reaching out to religious denominations to enlist their help in the effort to assist and protect Human Rights Defenders, and to help create and strengthen world structures for protecting human rights?
I mean, shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the organized religions be leading this effort? I know there are dedicated religious groups partnered in this effort, but I don't mean them. As Jimmy Allen said earlier, it's a matter of who has the microphone. I have some thoughts on this, and have had some conversations along these lines. Please leave a comment here, get the discussion going.
Maureen Byrnes of Human Rights First
We take seriously our responsibility to hold our own government responsible. In advocating against policies of use of torture we have in a spirit of partnership reached out to a group of retired military generals and admirals in common cause to oppose the use of torture.
It is people who are fundamentally at the heart of public policy. The people in this room have risked their lives in defense of human rights. People here risk imprisonment when they return home. Some people cannot even be here with us because they gave their life in the name of human rights.
You are sending a message to the international community. Officials from the UN, governments, NGOs and faith-based organizations have come together here.
Do we or don't we come into compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yes or no?
It is a very simple question.
This is the only forum in which I stay the whole time. I would consider this to be the high point of my life. This is our fourth annual session. It has brought a new dimension. It opens up a tremendous amount of new potential.
The potential of a marriage between the secular human rights groups, and new groups of faith. There is a lot of compatibility between the religions in our commitment to the basic principles of life. But there is a threat to us. I think in the last few years we have seen not any progress but deterioration in the global commitment to the protection of human rights. We have gone backwards. That is a tragic thing.
It would be impossible today for the UN assembly to draft the Universal Decaration of Human Rights.
The US and Israel and other nations profess to observe this declaration. Article 5 says no torture. Article 9 says no arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Article 10 calls for full and fair trial and public hearing. Article 15 everyone has a right to a nationality.
I get emotional when I read these words, almost as I do when I read the Bible. We say we are all honoring the Univ Declaration but we are not. And we are too reticent about demanding that our own governments comply with these basic principles.
Religions are some of the greatest perpetrators. Among the fundamentalists who deprive fellow worshipers of their speech and basic rights. They are not giving women their rights, among the Taliban and others. We human rights spokespersons avoid criticizing. In my own denomination I'm one of the 21 million among the other 16 million there are new policies that a woman has to be subservient to her husband, a woman cannot teach men, cannot be a chaplain for her own services. This is the intrusion of fundamentalism in the United States in recent years, and into our own government. When we deliberately say that the Geneva Conventions is no longer applicable to the US.
Quoted someone, "Extremist fundamentalist religion may well have a greater hold on the public in the US than in Iran."
We need to guard against the expansion of fundamentalism when a small group of leaders profess to speak for God and believe they are absolutely right, and others are inferior, that is a root cause of human rights violations.
We must reach out to bring in as our new ally those religious groups that agree with us.
The four freedoms from fear, from want, of expression, of religion.
In my opinion freedom of religion like the linked conscience and belief belong in the private sphere, they enter the public domain when freedom of expression, etc. Creation of Jewish state, Islamic governments, self-declared Christian nations, government's that assert themselves on the basis of their religious identities, enacting laws that are unimpeachable because they claim declared by God. Religion hijacked by states and therefore perverting completely its mission.
Action by a faith-based group can be a positive or a negative force. The test will be how these initiatives will be addressed by religious groups.
Will we see Jewish or Christian based groups call for self-examination?
Nothing happens without people but nothing lasts without institutions. I ask for your continued faith in the UN. We have an institution in which it is very unlikely the Universal Declaration would be passed today. Nothing happens without people reinventing their institutions. There will be a review conference, an arena for confrontation where religion will play a very dominant role. Soon the general assembly will decide whether the Human Rights Council will become a regular part of the UN. There is a very tall challenge ahead of us but I feel energized and hopeful. Thank you.
Karin Ryan spoke briefly about the process.
This is a policy forum. Government representatives attend and bring the views heard here back into their structures. We need to create a more systematic way for this to occur. It is very spotty now how Human Rights Defenders have a say in government processes. It's not great now, not even good. We need a systematic and constant way to bring HRD voices in to the system.
The Morning Session
I have been having individual conversations with some of the Human Rights Defenders, getting a sense of their thoughts and feelings about this event. I think rather than trying to transcribe what people are saying it might be more useful to listen more closely, and step back and give a bigger picture sense of things. When I try to transcribe what happens is I miss much of what is said, and then miss the next two speakers while I clean up the text and post it.
This morning we heard remarks from Jonathan Farrar, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Wolfgang Bruelhart, Head of Human Rights Policy Section, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland; and Gavan G.O'Leary, Deputy Director, Human Rights Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs, Ireland. They described the efforts of their countries to assist and protect Human Rights Defenders.
Then President Carter spoke to thank them, saying that for a small country, Ireland has been an outspoken champion of human rights in the world. He mentioned that he is proud of the efforts of Asst.Sec. Farrar's office and hopes that he might be able to get the word out that he is trying to assist human rights efforts because when he travels all he rarely hears positive comments about the Unites States' recent human rights concerns. He also said that he hopes the United States will someday participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Human Rights Defenders
For those unfamiliar with the terminology in use here, the term "Human Rights Defenders" has an official meaning:
Human rights defender is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders (HRDs) are those women and men who act peacefully for the promotion and protection of those rights.
The United Nations adopted the Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms on December 9, 1998. It marks a historic achievement in the struggle toward better protection of those at risk for carrying out legitimate human rights activities and is the first UN instrument that recognizes the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, as well as their need for better protection.
Human Rights First
I have been spending some time here with a few of the people here from Human Rights First. HRF works to help Human Rights Defenders, to protect refugees, to reduce violent hate crimes, and to ensure that tyrants and dictators are prosecuted for human rights crimes they commit.
Human Rights First is a nonprofit, nonpartisan international human rights organization founded in 1978 to defend and promote the dignity of every individual through the rule of law. The group is based in New York and has an active and highly active Washington D.C. office.
HRF works on a host of domestic and international rights, largely from a legal perspective but with growing emphasis on mobilizing an online constituency and outreach to the news media and other opinion leaders.
It coordinates millions of dollars of pro bono legal work each year on behalf of indigent asylum seekers. Human Rights First also works on international refugee policy, genocide intervention, and protecting human rights workers abroad. Human Rights First has issued numerous reports on human rights issues and has contributed amicus curiae briefs in support of foreign nationals held by the United States without charges.
You can help them out with their efforts at this page.
Karen Tse of International Bridges to Justice I have two stories in my head. President Carter said earlier that when he was president all these countries were dictatorships, and now the world is a different place. There is an exciting movement in the world. I remember when Marcos was in power, and then the people removed him, how I felt.
Still in this day with the progress so many are being tortured, arbitrarily detained and for them, so even in many new democracies for regular people the law is a dream.So that is one story going on, all the countries, we've written declarations, we spend so much on other things but haven't implemented human rights in so many countries.
The second story in my head, is about a sister who influenced me greatly, when I was in Cambodia and police officers were torturing people. She said, if you want to change this world, if you want to work with police who torture people, you have to find the Christ or Buddha in each of them. This is about the power of transforming love. You have to find a way to reach their humanity. Remember one thing, she said, whatever you focus on will grow.
In some ways there have been changes, in other ways there is still suffering.We must recognize our mutual humanity, the humanity of those who are not in this room and try to reach out and work with them. I am inspired by what I am hearing, but I also see a disease, a feeling that there are good people and bad people. Who are we shutting out of this process some that we need to work with? There is something else about our spirituality, our faith. Everywhere I have worked it is about the spirit coming forward. Spirit is moving. We can use that.
We will work with the police officers.
Bringing together the two stories to say more of the international community, we need to move beyond our own selves feeling like we're the right one's doing all the work and we're the ones who need to be here, and find the spirit in the others we need to reach.
Carter Speaks About The Palestinians
At the end of the first afternoon session former President Carter spoke off the cuff about the Palestinian situation. He was emotional, and it was powerful. I couldn't catch all of it and will try to find a transcript later. People were emotional when he finished, Rosalynn was crying. He described how people there have to live, how bad the situation is. He mentioned Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated for signing the Oslo Accords.
He said a big part of the source of the problem is here in the US, in the Congress. No one can be reelected to the congress if they say any of the things that have been said here today.
He said he doesn't see any chance that the UN is going to change, or that the high commission is going to be able to do anything for the Palestinians.
He said he is part of a small group of elders that is not constrained, including Koffi Annan, who will maybe be able to open up some discussion. "You see how distressed I am. The people living there are infinitely more distressed than I am. I don't know what I would do if I was living under those circumstances, if I saw my wife and children starving to death
... My hope is that the world will see. ... The EU hasn't spoken out. Russia has spoken out a little bit. ... The US is completely in bed with the Israelis ... Under the present circumstances I don't see any possibility of change."
First Afternoon Session
The first afternoon session is titled: Advancing Social and Economic Justice as the Foundation of Peace and Human Dignity
Fr. Jean-Juste of the Haitian Refugee Center talked about how we should be able in the western hemisphere, so close to America, should be able to find the resources to address the poverty.
Jessica Montell of Israel's B'tselem says freedom of movement is one of the most crippling human rights issues. A person can not travel from Gaza through Israel to the West Bank. Gaza is one big prison. o exports getting out. Bags of flower and beans are getting in. The economy is crippled. 80% of the population is now dependent on food aid coming from the international community. About a million people in poverty now.
The West Bank also severely crippled by restrictions on movement. Subdivided into six areas. Restrictions on use of roads - some roads are for Israelis only. Crossing barriers between some areas is completely off limits to Palestinians. This contributes to polarization between the two societies.
These restrictions on movement are justified by security. This is not to belittle Israel's security needs, but security becomes almost a religion in Isrtael. Waving the flag of security silences any dissent, public discussion of these policies. Some of the policies are said to be for security but in fact advance completely different objectives. Israel says they want to make the Palestinians understand they made a mistake - this is collective punishment. Soldiers are not allowing people at a checkpoint to get access to hospitals. The government and international community has to be held accountable.
In fact Israel has the legal responsibility to be held accountable for the welfare of the Palestinian population. The fact that the international community has to feed the population is taking on Israel's responsibility. It is not a natural disaster that makes people need this assistance.
Mitri Raheb of the International Center of Bethlehem says human rights united people over the divide. We as Palestinians are not poor, we are made poor, through a system of social and economic injustice. If you look today at the West Bank it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese. Israel gets the cheese and the Palestinians are pushed into the holes. Israel has taken the land, the water resources, and the artistic and tourist sites. Through that system we are made poor. The holes are surrounded by a wall. There is no room to expand. So twenty years from now we will have overpopulated crowded areas.
What is the international community doing? They are involved in managing rather than solving the conflict. It is not really just a conflict between Israel and Palestine. Without the subsidy of the international community Israel cannot continue what they are doing. What the international community is doing in Palestine is charity, not economic justice. Lifting roadblocks and closures would be much better for us than all the aid. But the international community closes their eyes when it comes to Israel, so they give the Palestinians some handouts so they will not have a bad conscience.
We have too much attention but too little action. Too much politics but too little care for the poorest, the community. Too much religion (I say this as a pastor) but too little spirituality. Too much aid but too little development. Too many resolutions but almost no implementation. That is in brief our problem.
The role of the faith community - Human rights and faith communities do not have the same role, but can compliment each other. Four things that are important to me. Role of faith community is in transforming our own people from seeing themselves as mere victims. When you only talk about human rights violation, people feel they are only victims and objects. People can become actors. So developing human resources in Palestine is an important goal.
Second role of faith community is to reach out to international faith community and help transform them from being spectators and thinking it is hopeless into becomming involved. In the last 15 years in the US mainline churches have moved quite a bit into becoming more involved. Some have called for divestment, others for boycotting settlement projects. Many calling for investment. So we see it is possible.
Third create facts on the ground in Palestine. We are going to create constructive facts and not be satisfied with sermons, and so on. Creating viable institutions is very important. Educational, health, housing project, give people a taste of what human rights are about.
Create room where people can feel they have a life worth living before death. In our region people have no problem imaging a better life after death.
Last is the role in developing a spirituality where the divine rights and human rights are but two sides of the same coin. Needed, especially in a region where human rights are violated in the name of religion and divine rights.
Earlier when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour was just about to speak, her phone rang. So there she is sitting next to Jimmy Carter who just spoke, looks at her phone and it's Koffi Annan. She took the call, excused herself, and went out of the room with her phone to her ear. She came back a few minutes later and spoke.
At lunch I asked her what he said, but she said she couldn't tell me.
Advice to travelers: if you use your cell phone as a backup alarm clock, remember to turn the ringer back on. I had it on vibrate but somehow woke up fifteen minutes before the bus. I made it.
Rosalynn Carter is still as beautiful as ever.
If you ever have lunch with Jimmy Carter, be sure to try the peach cobbler.
Roberto Garreton of Chile
Roberto Garreton of Chile spoke about addressing impunity in restoring democracy.
Atrocities occur when leaders act with impunity. Violence and lying always happen together, so restoring democracy requires establishing the truth. For legitimacy a democracy must have truth.
Four dimensions of addressing impunity, to rebuild democracy.
First, there is the legal dimension of impunity -- lack of punishment. Those responsible for crimes must be punished.
Then the ideological, political and sometimes moral foundations of thempunity must be addressed -- the enablers, those complicit, who came up with the justifications must also be sanctioned. The first function of a truth commission should be to punish those responsible, then addressing the enablers.
Third the moral impunity must be addressed. Human rights violations are always explained as happening for a good reason. The state has to be protected from ... whatever it is. It was done to save the country from ... Truth is required.
Finally there is the historical dimension of addressing impunity. It must be remembered what happened. Never allow the public to forget what happened.
These are important elements for reconstruction of democracy.
I have located more on the web by Roberto Garreton on the subject of addressing impunity for those who are interested.
Before, During and After Mass Atrocities
Yesterday the attendees broke into three groups to discuss three states of mass atrocity: before, during and after. I mostly observed the "before" discussion but I will summarize all three. Later I will summarize suggested strategies for dealing with these.
Before - what are the signals and early warning signs that a society is moving toward a mass atrocity and how can you prevent this?
Attendees who witnessed the Serbian atrocities, the post-invasion deterioration of Iraq and other events discussed what they saw.
Some of the major points discussed included: In common preceding atrocities is the development of a sense of victimhood. When there is a victim mentality, the populace feels justified in acting against an Other, with little empathy. The Other is demonized.
There is participation of the media in inflaming tensions and reinforcing victimhood. Cultural, religious and/or political elites played a role in producing this mentality, and colluded with the media. Hate speech and inflaming polarizing speech is spread.
Faith-based institutions become equally culpable in creating victim mentality and inflaming the public. Police and other state institutions become complicit with the culprits. An intellectual construct is created that makes any criticism irrelevant, even a sign of the enemy. Political elite taps into the polarization to their own advantage.
In Iraq the breakdown of security and other institutions of civil society led to identity groups developing their own protective services - militias. This forced a rise of ethnic and religious identity over common identity. Once this had occurred it became nearly impossible to break down. The results included ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods, death squads, militias battling.
During - When a mass atrocity is occurring the challenges include risks to human rights defenders themselves. They face personal risk, threats to themselves and their families. There are restrictions on the freedom of movement, and they are exposed to arbitrary arrest and detention, like what is happening in Sudan.
During the fog of war it is hard to obtain detail s with precision. Defenders are reacting in real time, trying to alert the world and need to worry about being discredited if information is incomplete or inaccurate.
Working in these areas means working with very polarized communities. Weak local capacity means that testimony and other evidence goes uncollected, abandoned or lost. Victims have no protection and may be reluctant to testify.
At an international level there are obstacles. There are double standards - some countries enjoy impunity and others come under pressure. National and international media might not report or is government controlled.
Rebuilding after mass crime - public institutions including legal systems are frequently destroyed during periods of mass violations. Weak post-conflict institutions make it difficult for human rights defenders to work. Frequently have to build from scratch, not rebuild public institutions. Women are frequently marginalized during rebuilding efforts.
I will write about strategies for confronting these problems as they are presented.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt
Among the Human Rights Defenders speaking this morning is Saad Eddin Ibrahim of Egypt. (See his recent Washington Post op-ed Egypt's Unchecked Repression.)
What is a mass atrocity 100? !000? Asking this becomes a way of delaying action, like the definition of terrorism.
A journey of 1000 miles starts with one step. Mass atrocities usually start with single atrocities. The immediate situation in Egypt a country with a political regime that has been committing atrocities, singular ad mass, but skating under the radar screen. Eqypt's president has been in power 26 years, 3rd longest time of any leader of Egypt in thousands of years. After Ramses II
Arab rulers have learned art of survival, and corruption and putting a legitimate face on everything. For the sake of stability they get away literally with murder.
I blew the whistle and ended up in prison for three years. I got out of prison and my first appearance was at this forum in a previous session. Now I am wanted again, so this could be my last public appearance. Arrest warrants are waiting for me. I am taking advantage of this great audience here to ask to be ready to intervene somehow on my behalf and my center's behalf. There is an arrest warrant when I arrive at the airport.
What did I blow the whistle on recently that earned me this notorious honor? Journalist (missed the name) disappeared 12 years ago. Despite multiplicity of security agencies in Egypt, disappearance not solved. Same with Libyan journalist, disappeared in Cairo, not solved. Both were doing work looking at death squads. Government has never revealed anything, disappearances forgotten. There are hundreds of cases of disappearances not resolved.
Now more recently two elected parliament members trumped up charges, put in prison. On anniversary of their uncle's assassination in a military barrack. Military never had an investigation. Put in prison for asking why military never investigated.
I asked about these, put me on wrong side of Hosni Mubarak regime.
They began a hate campaign against me in the state-controlled media. I established Arab Democracy Foundation. I attended human rights conference in Prague and was only Egyptian. Bush dropped in. Then US House suspends 200 Million from military aid to Egypt. Egyptian press blamed me, said I was conspiring to change regime, undermine national security.
So now arrest warrants wait for me, please be on alert in case I get thrown back in prison when I get back.
So I'm standing around in the lobby, drinking a coffee, waiting for things to start, and Jimmy Carter wanders over to say Hi...
I always wanted to say that.
I'm at the opening session of the 2007 Human Rights Defenders Forum, Faith and Freedom Conference, and President Carter is being introduced. I'll try to summarize what he is saying:
This may be our most ambitious conference. It will soon be the 30th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We have the Defenders here, but we also have the elders, who work on this. At this point adherence to the Universal Declaration of the Principles are -- at best, compared to what the commitment was ten or fifteen years ago, or when I was in the White House.
One problem is that leadership in the United States has dissipated. Not likely to improve for the next 500 days, 2 hours and 49 minutes (looking at watch). But I don't think the American People would fail to express their commitment to the human rights we all cherish.
The governments, the UN, the collective commitment of all the NGOs have proven to be inadequate. We have not effectively marshaled all the potential supporters of the Universal Principles. There are gaps between those who are committed to enforce human rights. One year we gave an award to Israeli and Palestinian groups working for human rights, they gave almost identical speeches.
This conference has identified potential allies - the major religions in the world. There is no incompatibility between their adoption of the basic principles. We all share the same basic commitment, publicly espoused without any apology. Christians worship the Prince of peace. All other religions worship peace instead of war. We are all committed to human freedom and to economic and social justice and the alleviation of suffering, the care for the disenfranchised and the needy. So there is a common foundation on which the major religions have an opportunity to work together.
My wife and I were in India for Habitat for Humanity, basically a Christian organization, helping build houses in a predominately Hindu country.
One advantage of religious organizations is their proximity to local conditions. The persecution of a population can first be detected by a priest or rabbi or others. Often this awareness of human rights persecution is not shared. They don't know what to do when the people they care for are being persecuted by their government. Sometimes they are even given awards. But the ex[pansion is not happening in a way to widely protect human rights. There is an incompatibility between us who consider themselves human rights activisit and the groups who consider themselves
At this conference we can consider ways to form that partnership to harness the organizations that already exist.
I don't think that churches, mosques, etc. that fervently protect human rights, that is not necessarily a violation of separation of church and state. There are times when there is a problem because the church leaders are in bed with the perpetrators of human rights violations. In many cases in Latin America the church leaders were very cozy with the dictators because they shared an element of power and influence. The so-called liberation theology champions were condemned and stigmatized by church leaders - that is something that many religious organizations would be willing to reexamine. The Pope might read the Universal Declaration principles and say "We stand for this." and that would be a very big step forward.
In fundamentalism a group of powerful men - always men - have a leadership of a religious group and they feel they are superior to others - to women - and they feel they have a relationship with God that makes them feel others are inferior, and that can lead to terrorism.
This conference is an opportunity to improve the cooperation between secular groups and religious organizations. The religious groups might be receptive. My hope and belief is that this conference can open the door to great progress and I am gratified that all of you are participating.
Human Rights Defenders Initiative Resources
First Impressions from the 2007 Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum
I am at the Carter Center in Atlanta to observe the 2007 Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum. The Carter Center brings together leaders of the world's human rights effort for discussions to try to find policy solutions that can help lessen the problem of human rights violations and atrocities that occur again and again in the world. In the next couple of days Jimmy Carter will be speaking, as will Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Karin Ryan, Director of the Carter Center's Human Rights Program writes,
"Why does the international community fail again and again to respond to these crises before they take on catastrophic dimensions?"
The ongoing Human Rights Defenders Policy Forums attempt to answer that question and find solutions. This year's conference brings together human rights defenders of different faiths, to discuss ways that the common traditions of faith in the struggle for human dignity can be utilized to provide new channels for approaching these problems.
"What might be accomplished if the reawakening of faith that is taking place throughout the globe were accompanied by a heightened commitment to put a stop to human rights violations in many places where they are ignored?"
So I find myself in Atlanta to observe and write about this conference. Today's discussions are off the record as the participants work to find common areas to discuss in the public conference of the next two days. This gives me a chance to write about what it is like to be here.
What is it like? The Carter Center is a very nice facility, with excellent conference amenities. It includes the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. (The museum includes a replica of the Oval Office and I hope I get a chance to sneak over and see it. I'll let you know.) The conference takes place in a auditorium, with a horseshoe-shaped table for the approx. twenty participants and ten or so organizational representatives. (There will be more over the next couple of days.) There are two rows of observer tables at the edges of the room, which is where I am. I have an earpiece for translation as people speak if needed. During the coffee break I spoke to a man who showed me the places where agents of his government cut him with a machete.
And that is what my first day as an observer is like. I flew here from California and landed in a nice airport. I am staying in a nice hotel. I am typing on a computer in the hallway of a very nice conference center. I carry in my head what is probably a widely-shared image of an ideal modern, civil life. I might not live that life (or even want to or think it is sustainable) but I feel that many of us reading this probably do share the image, because you are probably reading it on a computer in a modern society. In this Ideal Modern Life we have our jobs. We drive around in cars and go to shops. We consume and have our brand attachments. We watch TV shows and are entertained. We have houses and gardens. And somewhere else in the world these things are happening.
It is the 21st century and these things are not only happening, but the world's ability to confront such problems seems to be diminishing. The forces of racial, religious, national, ethnic, ideological, economic and environmental division seem to be gaining the upper hand. This is a conference where Human Rights Defenders struggle to find ways to help keep them from continuing to happen. The people here come from places where these things happen, but part of their message is that these things can happen when the world does not make it enough of a priority to keep them from happening.
Over the next two days I will be blogging about this conference. But blogging is a conversation. It is interactive. So please join this discussion and leave comments here as the conference unfolds.
Next Week - Faith and Freedom: Protecting Human Rights as Common Cause
Hi. I'm Dave Johnson, and I will be blogging next week from the Carter Center conference, Faith and Freedom: Protecting Human Rights as Common Cause.