June 20, 2008

The Challenge of Universal Human Rights

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ten years after its enactment, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the United Nations, saying:

Where do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home.  In the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

We at NIAC are reminded on nearly a daily basis how difficult it can be to enact real and significant change in our world.  Oftentimes it seems like our leaders have simply tuned out the calls for rational policies and peaceful dialogue with Iran.  However, to paraphrase Iranian author and activist Fariba Hachtroudi, the difficulty of the job ahead is miniscule in comparison to the amount of human suffering faced by those whose situation we are trying to correct.
Because of this, NIAC takes very seriously our charge from our members to promote human rights in Iran.
As with everything involving Iranian politics, the human rights issue is a complicated one.  What seems to be black and white is not always so simple.  For example, NIAC believes the US government should promote human rights in Iran as a top foreign policy priority, but not as a pretext for military action.  Rhetoric from Washington politicians can appear completely benign when they condemn Iran for its human rights violations, but frequently these condemnations belie a more sinister policy agenda–one that calls for regime change as the solution to all of Iran’s problems.
Let us be clear: human rights violations in Iran are detestable, but military action for regime change would exponentially worsen the situation for millions of Iranians.  That is why NIAC pushes for diplomatic engagement with Iran.  When the US sits down with other countries, it serves two purposes: it provides recourse for settling conflicts without war, and it allows us to promote the most critical issues, such as human rights, directly.
Human rights is too important an issue to use only as a rhetorical arrow to fling at an adversary.  The New York Times editorial board said “Saber-rattling is not a strategy.”  We continue to hope that our leaders will engage Iran directly, with human rights on the table.  That, in our view, is where we will finally find “progress in the larger world.”

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