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Advance The Cause of Human Rights

This letter to the editor of the New York Times by Jimmy Carter was published on Sept. 7, 2000.

To the Editor:

You reported (news article, Aug. 30) about Australia's reaction to criticism of its policies by United Nations human rights monitors. Today, leaders from more than 150 countries are gathered at the United Nations to discuss a wide range of global challenges, especially the universal protection of human rights.

It is imperative that these countries commit to increasing support for critical United Nations human rights monitoring activities, even in the face of Australia's recent actions. It is unfortunate that Australia would react defensively to issues raised by the committee that monitors the United Nations Race Convention, which Australia ratified in 1975.

Prime Minister John Howard argues that democracies should not be the subject of criticism because they have internal checks that ensure the enjoyment of human rights in those societies. This argument undermines the concept of a universal system in which all governments are scrutinized according to the same standard.

Because treaty bodies have no enforcement powers, their only function is to assess how well governments are living up to the standards to which they agreed. For a democracy to denounce a United Nations committee's findings only gives abusive governments an excuse to bow out of the process.


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