ON DEC. 10, the world marks the anniversary of the United Nations' adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, the world seems as far as ever from the declaration's promise of "equal and inalienable rights" for everyone everywhere.
A desolating example of the failure to live up to the declaration came last week, when the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had to call on the UN Security Council to demand that Sudan's government honor its obligation to arrest two officials who have been indicted by the court for crimes against humanity in Darfur. This is an egregious case of a government that not only commits massive violations of human rights, but then protects and promotes the criminals in its midst.
Incredibly, one of the two men wanted by the ICC, Ahmad Haroun, was recently appointed Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister. As such, he is responsible for receiving and acting upon the grievances of human-rights victims in Darfur. He has also been put in charge of monitoring the combined African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force that is scheduled to deploy to Darfur next month - a force that is being thwarted by Sudanese government maneuvers as well as a failure of Western governments to provide airlift capability.
Moreno-Ocampo has been suitably forceful in warning that Haroun, "a man charged with 50 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes," should not be entrusted with responsibility for his victims' safety. The Security Council entrusted Moreno-Ocampo with prosecution of the crimes committed in Darfur by the Sudanese regime, and he left council members no room to plead ignorance when he told them Wednesday that the systematic slaughters of black African villagers and destruction of their villages in 2003 and 2004 was "the first phase of the criminal plan coordinated by Ahmad Haroun."
The second phase, Moreno-Ocampo said, is "happening right now in front of our eyes, the victims are attacked in the camps. Ahmad Haroun is a key actor. But he is not alone." The prosecutor was living up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when he vowed to investigate those who are responsible for "ongoing attacks against civilians," who are "maintaining Haroun in a position to commit crimes," and who are "instructing him."
It would be nice to think it is only in distant and benighted lands that the Universal Declaration is disregarded or defiled. But American presidential candidates are debating the acceptability of torture. And some seem willing to countenance this blatant abuse of human rights - a practice American soldiers have always been taught to avoid and abhor.
Without a single, universal standard for human rights, there is no way to keep the promise of equal, inalienable rights for all.