Posts tagged with: united nations

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North Korea has lately been featured in dozens of news articles about a recent United Nations report on human rights abuses and now thanks to a new photo from NASA. The photo above was just released — taken from the International Space Station. While the surrounding countries are twinkling with light, North Korea is completely blacked out save for a small dot that is Pyongyang.  U.S. News & World Report lists some of the unpleasant facts of life in North Korea, including frequent power outages:

– One-third of children are stunted, due to malnutrition, according to the World Food Program.

– The average life expectancy, 69, has fallen by five years since the early 1980s, according to the blog North Korea Economy Watch. The blog notes that those figures are based on official statistics, so the real numbers could be even lower.

– Inflation may be as high as 100 percent, due to mismanagement of the currency.

– Most workers earn $2 to $3 per month in pay from the government. Some work on the side or sell goods in local markets, earning an extra $10 per month or so.

– Most homes and apartments are heated by open fireplaces burning wood or briquettes. Many lack flush toilets.

– Electric power is sporadic and unreliable, with homes that have electricity often receiving power just a few hours per day. (more…)

UN flagFrom the Charter of the United Nations:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
  3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
  4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

It seems that the U.N. has lost touch with its own purpose for existence. A much-publicized U.N. report told the Catholic Church they needed to change their teaching. The report was written under the guise of caring about children and the sex abuse scandal the Church continues to deal with. However, Claudia Rosett of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies takes the U.N. to task in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece: (more…)

Syruan Refugeesnorthern iraqRecent events in Syria have created what The New York Times is calling an “historic” refugee crisis, with more than 2 million people leaving the country.

In August, hundreds of thousands poured over the border to Iraq, describing “a campaign by jihadi fighters to destroy agriculture and cut power and water supplies in Syrian Kurdish areas.” Lebanon’s population has exploded by 20 percent due to Syrian refugees, and Jordan is trying to deal with over half a million people seeking refuge from Syrian conflict. (more…)

Lemkin

Raphael Lemkin

Today marks the 54th year since the passing of one of the world’s most influential international human rights lawyers. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide’, made the crime illegal under international law, and possessed an almost prophetic sense of the atrocities that would occur under Nazi tyranny in World War II, died a largely unnoticed man. Only seven people attended his funeral, and to this day, many have not heard of Lemkin or the great contributions credited to his name.

The following account of Lemkin’s life and work is largely drawn from “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, the 2002 book by Samantha Power. Power was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on August 2nd.

Early Insights

Born in 1900 to a large Jewish family in the village of Bezwodene, Poland (now near Volkovysk, Belarus), Lemkin became conscious of crimes against religious and minority groups at a young age. At the age of 12, he read the book, Quo Vadis, which recounts the Roman Emperor Nero’s massacres of Christian converts in the first century.

Lemkin learned about the Ottoman Empire’s extermination of its Armenian minority in 1915, and the 1920 assassination of Mehmet Talaat, the architect of the genocide. While studying linguistics at the University of Lvov, he asked one of his professors why the Armenians did not arrest Talaat instead. The professor said there was no law under which he could be arrested. “Consider the case of the farmer who owns a flock of chickens,” he said. “He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.” Lemkin was deeply troubled by this response and the idea that “state sovereignty” effectively permitted leaders to exterminate entire minority groups. (more…)

Our planet contains about forty tons of bugs for every human, says Helena Goodrich, offering and “ongoing ‘all you can eat” insect buffet.” While snacking on cicadas probably won’t catch on in the U.S. anytime soon, could eating more bugs help solve world hunger?

eating-bugsAccording to a recent U.N. report, insects could indeed be part of the solution to some of the world’s food security and health problems. More than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food and insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. So why isn’t entomophagy (consumption of insects as food) more popular among Westerners?

The main reason, of course, is that cows and chickens taste better than crickets and cockroaches. But that shouldn’t stop us from promoting insects as an edible alternative:
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Blog author: ehilton
Monday, December 10, 2012
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Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to wealth creation in the developing world is corruption. Bribery, rigging of the political process, theft, lack of accountability: all of these lead to instability, bureaucracy, and a lack of incentive to invest. The United Nations has declared today International Anti-Corruption Day in an effort to bring light to this topic and work to prevent it.

George Ayittey, Ghanaian economist, explains how massive a problem corruption is for Africa:

Imagine, Africa has a begging bowl and that into this begging bowl comes… foreign aid. But this bowl has holes in it, so it leaks. There’s a massive hole here through which corruption alone cost Africa $148 billion dollars. That’s a massive leak. What should be done first – plugging the leaks or putting more aid money in? Now this is something which even an elementary school student should be able to answer. I mean, you pouring more and more and more into the bowl and then it leaks. Defining insanity: as doing the same thing over and over and over and again and expecting different results—makes no sense.

Osvaldo Schenone and Samuel Gregg share their thoughts on corruption and its scourge in the Acton Institute monograph A Theory of Corruption. The monograph explores the political and international ramifications of corruption, but also its moral implications. (more…)

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Oct. 16 after the session of the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.

In an interview for Acton’s Religion & Liberty quarterly, the Russian Orthodox bishop in charge of external affairs for the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, warned that that the situation for the Christian population of Syria has deteriorated to an alarming degree. Hilarion compared the situation today, after almost two years of fighting in Syria, as analogous to Iraq, which saw a virtual depopulation of Christians following the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The Russian Orthodox Church has been among the most active witnesses against Christian persecution around the world, particularly in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. In November 2011, Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, visited Syria and Lebanon. In a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kirill said that he shared a concern with Assad about the “spread of religious radicalism that threatens the integrity of the Arab world.”

That sentiment has been expressed widely in Christian communities in Syria — some of them dating to apostolic times — as civil war has progressively taken a heavy toll. Now almost two years on, as many as 30,000 people may have perished. Despite having few illusions about the nature of Assad’s autocratic rule, many Christians feared that the Islamist groups, involved in what the West initially viewed as another “Arab Spring” uprising, would eventually turn on them. Indeed this is what has happened. Entire Christian villages have been depopulated, churches desecrated, and many brutal killings have taken place at the hands of the “Arab Spring” insurgents. Most recently, Fr. Fadi Haddad, an Orthodox priest, was found murdered with brutal marks of torture on his remains. Car bomb attacks are now being waged against Christian neighborhoods. (See these backgrounders on the Syrian crisis from the Congressional Research Service and the Council on Foreign Relations). (more…)

Today, October 11, has been declared the International Day of the Girl Child by the United Nations. According to the Day of the Girl Campaign located in Washington, DC, this day “serves to recognize girls as a population that faces difficult challenges, including gender violence, early marriage, child labor, and discrimination at work” for females under 18. Admirably, this day seeks to draw attention to global issues such as the high drop-out rate of girls from school, child marriage, and human trafficking.

One organization, Plan International, is simultaneously launching their “Because I am a girl” campaign. Their goal for this campaign is to reach 4 million girls: “improving their lives with access to school, skills, livelihoods and protection. We will also achieve these improvements through better family and community support and access to services for girls.” For Plan International, these services include sex education at the primary school level, contraceptives, and “population growth” education.

There is a paradox in these pro-girl campaigns. While the support of girls’ education and the call to end child marriages are admirable, much of the developing world is suffering from a “daughter deficit” – a noticeable lack of girls in their societies. The United Nations notes that there are an estimated 200 million females “missing” in the world today due to abortion and post-birth infanticide. These pro-girl campaigns are missing a lot of participants.

China, with its harshly imposed one-child policy, accounts for many missing girls. For cultural reasons, the Chinese typically want that one child to be male. Women in other cultures are de-valued; they cost a family money, rather than bringing in money. Sex-selection abortions are routine in India, while at the same time rural, poorly-educated Indian women are used as surrogates – essentially renting out their wombs – for high-paying Western “consumers” who want babies.

This gendercide is poignantly portrayed in the documentary “It’s a Girl”. The film’s website notes that those words – “it’s a girl” – are the three deadliest words in the world today.

As the trailer points out, there is systematic machinery in the world that seeks to eliminate girls. But let’s be clear: this is not a machine that is out-of-control. In fact, it is very much controlled – by humans who make choices. There are those who offer sex-selection tests so that abortions on baby girls can be completed as soon as possible. There are those who choose to conduct those abortions. There are those who traffic in unwanted baby girls, selling them on the black market to people desperate to adopt or to human traffickers.

It is right to celebrate the lives of girls. It is right to want all young ladies to be educated, healthy, cared for and treated well from the moment of conception to natural death. That’s not our world, though. Not yet. Celebrating a day for girls is a good thing, but a better thing is recognizing how pitiful it is to celebrate them on one day, and routinely abort them every day. We know these “missing girls” could grow up to be mothers, educators, inventors, business women, health-care professionals, speakers – leaders of families, villages, societies. The best thing we can do is to not simply celebrate girls, but change hearts and minds about the value of girls in every part of the world. That would be something to celebrate.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

As I noted yesterday, I’m in Montreal for the next couple of weeks, and today I had the chance to see some of the student protests firsthand. These protests have been going on now for over three months, and have to do with the raising of tuition for college in Quebec.

I’m teaching at Farel Reformed Theological Seminary, which is located in the heart of downtown Montreal, and is adjacent to Concordia University. As I walked around earlier this week, I noticed the following on one of Concordia’s buildings:

The Right to Education
The text is article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads in part, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”

I think that the kinds of protests we are seeing in Quebec might be the inevitable end of the logic of the welfare state. The logic goes something like this:

Education is a right, and should be free, or the next best thing to it. In order for it to be “free,” it must be administered, or at least underwritten, by the state, because we know that the only way to make something appear to be free is to requisition the necessary funds via taxation. This is, in fact, precisely the rationale for the existence of the modern welfare state, in which in the context of the Netherlands, for instance, it is understood to be “the task of the state to promote the general welfare and to secure the basic needs of people in society.”

Education is a right (per the UN Declaration), is constitutive of the general welfare, and a basic need. Thus it must be “fully guaranteed by the government” (to quote Noordegraaf from the Dutch context regarding social security, mutatis mutandis).

The upheavals we are seeing, then, are what happen when we can no longer sustain such guarantees. They are what happen when “free” becomes unaffordable and unsustainable.

This means that the flawed logic of the welfare state will have to be critically reexamined, no small task for a developed world that has steadily built infrastructure according to logic for much of the past seventy years.

For Quebec this does not bode well, as Cardus’ Peter Stockland puts it, “This is a province in the grip of reactionary progressives afflicted with severe intellectual and institutional sclerosis. Their malaise prevents any proposals for change from being given fair hearing, much less a chance of being put into play. Real change, not merely revolutionary play-acting, is anathema in this province.”

Thanks to George McGraw, Executive Director of DigDeep Right to Water Project, for his kind and thoughtful Counterpoint to my original post.  He and his organization are clearly dedicated to the noble cause of providing clean water and sanitation to all, a cause which everyone can and should support.  It is also a very sensible objective that would aid the world’s poor much more than trendier causes such as “climate change” and “population control” which tend to view the human person and his industriousness as fundamental problems to be solved through central planning, birth control, sterilization and abortion.

McGraw is certainly right to say that the Holy See does not believe that water should be free for all, despite the purposely provocative title of my post.  And the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace document does indeed presuppose market mechanisms for the distribution of water resources.  My fear, however, is that while paying lip service to the validity of market economics and the role of profit, many religious-minded people still have a low opinion of business and fail to recognize that markets have been and remain the best way to allocate resources, especially absolutely necessary ones such as food and water.  The profit motive may not be the most high-minded way of caring for the poor, but it has proven to be the most reliable and effective one.  No one claims that markets are perfect; they are still more likely to meet human needs that the alternatives, whether these are government services or private charity.

I agree that there are circumstances in which food and water must be provided to those who cannot pay for them, but this does not make them “free” or without cost.  Someone else still has to produce and deliver them to the poor, and it will be the government who does the commanding at some level.  This is necessary in emergency situations, though still not always the best solution, as the relief efforts in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath proved.  My main concern is that introducing a legally-recognized “right to water” shifts the focus from the rights and duties of the private sector to those of the government, and away from the individual and toward the collective.  It should also be recognized that the public, subsidized provision of a good often displaces or “crowds out” private sector providers, to the detriment of the development of local businesses, a sine qua non if countries are to escape poverty.

Having worked for the Holy See at the United Nations, I witnessed all sorts of perverted thinking on the issue of human rights.  The UN was where, for instance, the Soviet Union and its satellites continually pushed for “economic, social and cultural rights” at the expense of the political and civil rights promoted by the West.  This was yet another cynical ploy to deny individual rights and collectivize society.  Since the end of communism, many of these “new” rights, also called “second- and third-generation” rights, have become less obviously ideological but remain problematic.  As the very notion of “generational” development makes clear, there is no clear standard by which to measure or order these rights.  This is the “progressive” rather than the truly liberal understanding of human rights and it ought to be rejected as such.  Two of my graduate-school professors, Clifford Orwin and Thomas Pangle, put it well in a 1982 essay on “The Philosophical Foundation of Human Rights”:

[Economic, social and cultural rights] are merely things that most people want, and that the poorer countries wish they could persuade the richer ones to give them. They are open-ended and hence often unreasonable.  There is no way, for example, that an underdeveloped country can provide adequate education or medical care for all its citizens.  By proclaiming these as universal human rights, however, such countries arm themselves with the most respectable of reasons for pressing for global redistribution of wealth.  No one can blame them for that; but we can question the status as “human rights” of what are, in a sense, letters to Santa Claus.

I have to admit to being a bit surprised by the Catholic World News report on my blog post that placed me in opposition to Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  It’s not every day that I have to prove my Catholic bona fides, so I should clarify my understanding of what the Church means by the “right to water.”  (The RealClearReligion website may have contributed to the problem by titling its link to my piece “There is No Right to Water.”)  All Catholics and indeed all people of good will should believe that human beings are entitled to the necessities of food and water as human beings; in no way do I support depriving anyone of these at any stage of life.  And the Church is not wrong to identify “rights” that are due to the person as a result of his ontological dignity.  My point was that calling for a legally-recognized international human right to water may not be the best way to ensure that everyone actually has access to it; results should matter just as much as putting some nice-sounding words on paper.  The difficulty results, in my opinion, from the long-standing abuse of the term “human rights” that I previously mentioned and a lot of subsequent incoherence, not least coming from academics looking for justification for their soft-left-wing policy preferences.

The Church is, nevertheless, a pre-modern institution that has a different understanding of human rights and human nature than liberals and progressives do, and the presuppositions of Church teaching on human dignity are crucial.  As the late Cardinal Avery Dulles once put it, “The Catholic doctrine of human rights is not based on Lockean empiricism or individualism.  It has a more ancient and distinguished pedigree.”  Without emphasizing the presuppositions made by this pedigree, any call for new rights is likely to be misconstrued and misapplied.  We need to recover the fullness of Catholic moral and social teaching without exacerbating the problem, while also appreciating the role that private enterprise has within the liberal tradition.