Has the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Made Humanity Better Off?

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 11, 2003

During the earlier part of the 19th Century, crimes were on the rise in London, which was then considered the richest city in the world. This threatened businesses in the city. The need to fight crimes prompted citizens of the City to organize a professional police force; and in September 1829, the Home Secretary Sir. Robert (Bobby) Peel, became the first chief of the London Police Force. The nickname, "Bobby," by which police officers in England are identified was inherited from Sir. Robert (Bobby) Peel.

The London experiment was also reproduced in New York in 1845 - that was the year New York got its police force. Like the Englishmen's fear of an armed force in the hands of government, Americans shared similar concern. But unlike London, New York became chaotic as its population mushroomed as the result of the influx of thousands of immigrants mainly from Europe and the migration (the running away) of African Americans from the South; this brought about racial conflicts and on many occasions led to racial violence.

From the beginning, European police were organized to protect their rulers and not their citizens. Whereas, New York police force did not only protect the rich and famous, it became abusive and corrupt. Moreover, the British, who at first were against the idea of military-style police saw nothing wrong with using military police to keep their colonies in subjection. For example, in the book, Policing Across the World, the author Mr. Rob Mawby wrote; "Incidents of police brutality, corruption, violence, murder and abuse of power punctuated almost every decade of colonial police history." Mr. Mawby added by saying- instead of providing public service, "the imposition of a global impression of policing as a government force" became the practice. This practice spread like wildfire throughout the world, which led to various violations of human and constitutional rights of citizens. The direct reaction to the violation of these fundamental rights contributed greatly to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

It has been over fifty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. The questions we need to ask is- is humanity better off today since the Declaration was proclaimed and adopted? Or is human rights respected where you live? These questions are what this article will attempt to highlight; but before we proceed, let us first look at one of the reasons the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into existence.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established as the result of the horrors of World War I and the plight of minority peoples in the newly created nation states. It is, or was intended to address the long-standing principle of national sovereignty. After the war, minority treaties enforced by the League of Nations were designed to protect the rights of linguistic and ethnic minorities in the new states of Central and Eastern Europe. It was not, however, until the systematic terror waged by the Nazi government against its own citizens and those under its control that the horrifying implication of the doctrine of national sovereignty became painfully apparent. The Nuremberg Trials following World War II brought about the notion of "crimes against humanity"- violations of human rights of such an egregious nature as to warrant judgment and punishment by international tribunals in accordance with international norms.

Following the war, international human rights law became codified in a series of declarations and agreements that set forth international standards, including: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, entered into force in 1976, and the International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights, also entered into force in 1976.

Since that time, a number of regional agreements have been promulgated to supplement these worldwide instruments, included among these instruments are the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (entered into force in 1953); the Helsinki accords (adopted in 1975); the American Convention on Human Rights (entered into force 1978), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Right (entered into force in 1986).

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, numerous civil wars and uprisings, which killed, maimed and displaced citizens all over the world have taken place; can we honestly say the Declaration has made the world a safer place to live? If not, is it safe to conclude that the Declaration has been violated by almost all of the countries that promised to uphold it in one shape or form?

According to a report by Amnesty International (IA), half of the world's government continues to imprison people solely due to their beliefs, race, gender or ethnic origin. Another one-third of the world's governments tortured their prisoners, and these governments include developed and developing countries.

For example, in the decade of the 90s, there was an increased in war crimes and genocide in places like Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. In fact, based on available evidence, we can now conclude that most of the violence and genocide we experienced throughout the Cold War and today can be attributed to the East and West rivalry. This rivalry between the East and West used Africa and other developing nations as pawn in their efforts to achieve their political and economic objectives such as the sale of their manufactured goods, i.e., land mines and other destructive ammunitions.

Moreover, these ammunitions were used in the ideological conflict (Cold War), to bring to power as well as maintain in power, dictators and tyrants like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippine, Suharto of Indonesia, Pot Pot and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Francois and Jean Claude Duvalier of Haiti, William V. S. Tubman of Liberia, Felix Houphoet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaire, Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic, Emperor Haile Salassie I and Haile Mariam of Ethopia, Jonas Savimbi of UNITA (Angola), Hissene Habre of Chad; the list goes on.

The crimes these rulers committed ranged from looting their countries' treasury to abuse, torture, maiming and killing of their opponents as well as innocent citizens for the sake of maintaining "raw power." The source of their power came from either the East or the West, or through their surrogates.

Liberia is another case in which usury was involved. During President Ronald Reagan's administration, the United States ignored the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by supporting Chairman Moe (as President Reagan referred to President Samuel K. Doe). For example, in the article by Reed Kramer - "Liberia: A Casualty of the Cold War's End," the Reagan Administration provided the means by which President Samuel K. Doe's government was sustained and oppressed his own people. Regarding this, Kramer wrote:

After Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, support for Liberia was increased. Aid level rose from about $20 million in 1979 to $75 million and then $95 million, for a total of $402 million between 1981 and 1985, more than the country received during the entire previous century. Ties with the Liberian army were strengthened; the military component of the aid package for this period was about $15 million, which was for a greatly enlarged training program, barracks construction and equipment.

Kramer cited Bob Woodward's explanation regarding how the US government helped to keep these dictators in power:

Casey selected Doe as one of 12 heads of state from around the world to receive support from a special security assistance program. The operations were designed to provide both extraordinary protection for the leaders and otherwise unobtainable information and access for the CIA. Unknown to almost everyone else involved in making decisions about Liberia for the administration, this gave the CIA and the White House a huge stake in keeping the Liberian regime in place.

Even though East and West ideological Cold War has ended, the tradition of using developing countries as pawn continues today. Powerful countries such as the United States, France, England, the former Soviet Union, including Libya, have supported various armed factions for the sole purpose of their selfish political and economic interests. Liberia's Charles Taylor is a case in point. In his quest for power, France, Libya and South Korea provided him with the needed support.

Regarding such support, Taylor told radio listeners in Liberia that contrary to widely held views, he was not siphoning money from the state, and that whatever he has, was "personal."

"I had more money before I came here than and now. But I should know that we have friends that help us personally to make sure that we appear as President. And so when we talk about accumulation of wealth, we have an open system in this country we have friends that help us as friends and that's how we get money. We do not get money from the Liberian people's money - because it is not there. There is no record of any Finance Minister budget showing the withdrawal of funds for the President... And so, in short, when we get out, we ask for assistance for the country. And so in many ways we get out, we help ourselves. For example, the convoy that you see me ride... Go and check it up at the Ministry of Finance. I think that the public and you journalists, in fact the accountants have every right to go to the Ministry of Finance."

Based on the help from his friends, Charles Taylor considers himself as the "most successful rebel leader", Liberia's natural resources and "friends," "to make sure we do not appear less than the President."

In view of the above, it is safe to conclude that during the Cold War, the East and West were not honest in observing and respecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The evidence shows that they provided continued supports- material and financial assistance to countries that violated the human and constitution rights of their citizens. And even thought the Cold War has ended, the practice continued on interrupted. As a matter of fact, there has been remarkable increased in violent, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other atrocities committed by government authorities in nation upon nations around the world.


In order to find some solutions to these problems, countries that signed and promised to uphold these international pacts will have to abide by them. What good is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights if it is not followed? Therefore, the following suggestions should be seriously considered if violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related charters are to be discouraged:

1. The US and countries that have not signed the agreement to eliminate the production of land mines must be encouraged to do so;

2. The international community must send a strong and unmistakable message to leaders who violate human and constitutional rights of their citizens (the civilized community should not tolerate this type of behavior);

3. From here on, crimes against humanity must be persecuted to the fullest by UN tribunal;

4. Only government that come to power through democratic means such as, free and fair elections should be recognized and accepted by the international community, and

5. Rulers like Charles Taylor of Liberia and those who committed and continued to commit atrocities in Liberia should be brought to justice for crimes they committed against their own people.

If these recommendations are followed, I believe we will not only be closer to eliminating man's inhumanity to man, but rather make it difficult for any leader who commits crimes against humanity to get away free.