être (To Be) - The Face of Human Rights
TAfter the admission of Switzerland into the United Nations, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in Geneva offered the UN an exhibition entitled "To Be" to celebrate the occasion in the Palace of Nations on the 60th Commission of Human Rights.
This exhibition brought to life an interest among our representatives and cooperative offices of COSUDE. For this reason, the Fourth Political Division, in collaboration with Lars Müller, Commissary of "To Be", subsequently produced an exhibition available to the representatives and cooperative offices of COSUDE.
Human Rights are indivisible and universal; they are valid everywhere and for everyone. They are also valid for all spheres of life. Human Rights are required rights.
In respect to those rights, concessions are not acceptable now that there is widespread agreement about human rights and with regard to the violation of those rights.
It is easy to speak of human rights. Many human beings know their rights but few demand them. And they do not demand them because they do not know how to do so, or because they do not have the necessary means to, or even because the state impedes them.
What can we do so that human beings pay more attention to their own rights?
We can sensitize people by means of establishing images of human rights through mediums as sculpture, photography and writing.
Human rights are universal and indivisible and contain the fundamentals of a "World Constitution". The respect and application of human rights are indispensable in order to allow all human beings a dignified existence anywhere in the World. Human rights are rights that each individual can demand in face of the state.
Wolfgang Amadeus Bruelhart
Chief of the Political Section of Human Rights
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland
(Translated by Bruce Jacobs)
Human Rights and Human Dignity
The question, "What are our human rights?" has been evolving in each human society for centuries. However, on the international stage, this question has only begun to be carefully analyzed since the Second World War. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, solemnly proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948 as the common ideal by which all people and nations should struggle, responds clearly to this question: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and, provided as they are with reason and conscience, must behave fraternally with one another. As such, each person has the right to demand his rights and liberties proclaimed in this Declaration, independently of his sex, ethnic origin, religious belief, political ideas, and convictions of any other type or any other similar motive. Human Rights are converted thereby into legal instruments to serve as a protection of basic needs and human dignity.
The list of guarantees enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes into consideration different rights that range from the protection of life and physical integrity to the rights of a just process and the prohibition of torture and arbitrary detention to the different liberties such as freedom of opinion and association of religion. Also included are a series of economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to work, nourishment, health and education. In this catalogue, states define as an international document for the first time in human history, those principal guarantees of which all humans have by virtue of their dignity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not, however, a legally bound document. It was simply a plan for the Human Rights Project. However, it converted into a reference point of the modern protection of human rights as is actually found in numerous treaty agreements.
The Seven Principle Human Rights Agreements of the ONU
– International Pact of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966
– International Pact of Civil and Political Rights 1966
– International Agreement for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women 1979
– Agreement against Torture and other Types of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishments 1984
– Agreement over the Rights of Children 1989
– International Agreement over the Protection of Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families 1990
The Three Principle Regional Human Rights Agreements
– European Agreement over the Protection of Human Rights and of Fundamental Liberties 1950
– American Human Rights Agreement 1969
– African Letter of Human Rights and of the People 1981
More than half a century after the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have to ask ourselves: Have international efforts to project human rights been fruitless? The rising number of infractions of the fundamental guarantees on all continents has been surprising. It is fitting to point out however, that human rights are not a reflection of what is, but what should be.
Human rights do not describe concrete deeds. As are normative values, they provide guidelines to evaluate reality. In this sense, human rights reach their peak of significance at the moment in which they are most vulnerable. A tortured human, at the moment of his misery and pain, is left at least with the certainty that law and morality are on his side and that the torturer is committing an attack against the most basic elements of morality and rights.
From an historical view, it appears that the respect of human rights has not yet risen in flight. On the other hand, however, a lot of progress has been made. Since the middle of the 20th Century, Public International Right has made it possible for states to expressly say for the sake of their sovereignty whether or not they want to guarantee or deny the rights of its citizens. Today, sure and reliable norms exist that permit us to judge not only in moral terms, but also legally our rights before the states as well as in internal state matters.
Political pressure, exercised along with the existence of recognized human rights, has been essential in contributing to the defeat of military dictatorships in the 1970´s in Latin America and other places and in the 1989 totalitarian regimes of Eastern and Central Europe. After living through the tragedies of former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, it is now possible for the first time to pursue and punish, by way of international tribunes, those recognised as guilty of the most serious violations of human rights. And human rights are more and more used as the criteria for the establishment of exterior political relations between the states in different sectors such as in the handing over of criminals, in work of cooperative development programs, or in international commercial relations. Lastly, human rights have given oppressed human beings around the world an ideal and a justification to struggle for justice, liberty and equality.
What are Human Rights?
International human rights are rights of people with the state or state court systems, guaranteed by international law and serve to protect fundamental aspects of humans and of human dignity in times of peace as well as in war.
Walter Kälin y Judith Wyttenbach
© for all photographs: Magnum Photos
© 2005 by Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland
(Translated by Bruce Jacobs)