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Human Rights at 60

They aren't what they used to be.

11:00 PM, Dec 9, 2008 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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Where is Thomas Jefferson when you need him? When human rights are no longer considered the gift of nature and nature's God, human dignity is made more vulnerable to assault. When repressive regimes are rewarded with membership and voting privileges in U.N. bodies, the entire human rights project is debased. The political result is that fundamental rights--the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion--become negotiable. In the end, they become disposable.

A few years ago I attended the Geneva session of the Human Rights Council, just as the extent of the ethnic cleansing in Darfur was first being widely reported. Civilians were being killed by the thousands; entire villages were being burned to the ground. Yet U.N. diplomats said almost nothing about the unfolding human-rights disaster. (China, a member of the Council with oil interests in Sudan, blocked any critical resolutions.) Instead, I heard officials from dictatorial states, cheered on by left-wing activists, denounce the United States for its international "campaign" against human rights. The piece de resistance was a speech by an ex-convict from Alaska, who complained that his "human rights" had been grossly violated: U.S. prison officials had cut his hair too short.

For years I've gotten my hair cut by Mario, a veteran Italian barber in Washington, D.C. If, contrary to all experience, Mario were to give me a lousy haircut, I might say, "Mario, che cosa hai fatto qui?" (What did you do here?). We'd probably shrug it off and that would be the end of it. But thanks to the U.N.'s culture of hypocrisy, bad haircuts can get you a microphone and an international audience.

Sixty years ago, when the death camps still cast a shadow over Europe, world leaders were more sober about the great threats to human freedom. They proclaimed that "contempt for human rights" had produced acts of barbarism that "have outraged the conscience of mankind." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, indeed, the United Nations itself, were a response to those acts. The bitter irony is that another form of contempt for human dignity has appeared--and found safe harbor in the multicultural halls of New York and Geneva.

Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy. His latest book is The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm.