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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: People from Around the World Gather at UN to Mark 50th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Human Rights Era

by John Tarleton
December 1998

THE UNITED NATIONS—Human Rights as an idea and a movement is slowly taking hold around the world. I could hear this in the clamor of disparate voices that gathered across the street from the United Nations on a cold, blustery December day in New York city to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human rights.

Puerto Rican Independistas, Zapatistas, anti-Castro Cubans, Sikh separatists, secular Iranians, Tibetans, Taiwanese, East Turkistanis, Sri Lankans, Inner Mongolians, and many others were on hand; a de facto Assembly of the dispossessed peoples of the Earth. The languages and the dress and the skin color of these peoples varied. But as I weaved through the crowds and interviewed people, I heard the same basic demand: full respect for human rights as expressed in the 29 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration, which was proclaimed by the UN on December, 10 1948, was a product of the shock and the horror following revelations of Nazi atrocities during World War II. Never again would nations be considered to have the unlimited right to do whatever they pleased with the peoples who happened to live inside their borders.Some basic rights—freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest and freedom from torture—to name just a few, transcended all boundaries.

The Declaration, however, has been more a statement of ideals in its first 50 years than a living reality. 170 million people—mostly civilians—have died in wars since the end of the Holocaust, according to Jews Against Genocide, a New York City-based activist group. Many of these people—Rwandans, Bosnians, Tibetans, Kurds, etc.—were killled simply because of who they were.

Powerful governments tend to support the Declaration more out of convenience than principle, paying lip service to human rights and subsidies to homegrown arms dealers. The US provides only one striking example: it spoke out against the mistreatment of dissidents in the Soviet Union but supported apartheid in South Africa. It has denounced Communism in Cuba and genocide in Cambodia (only to rearm Pol Pot and his followers soon after they fell from power), but financed death squads in Central America and ignored the fate of East Timor.

In a world still dominated by the cynicism of Realpolitik, the dispossessed rally under the banner of Human Rights because they often have nowhere else to turn. But, Human Rights is the kind of movement that all people of goodwill can support. And perhaps that accounts for the festiveness of the demonstrations that I witnessed. The Human Rights Movement is gaining force. Ask General Pinochet if you think otherwise.

Human Rights is a concept that can be intuitively understood. And it is a cause that everyone can contribute to, especially in the United States. International commerce and satellite communications are bringing the world together. And however modest its achievements to date, the Declaration offers a framework and a moral vision for a tolerant, inclusive global society. To think, the very concept of universal human rights did not even exist 100 years ago. So, maybe we humans are making progress after all.

Pierre Garroudi—Iranian Fashion Designer

Pierre Garroudi is a Persian dreamer who speaks in a lyrical, sing-song voice. He fled from Iran 12 years ago to study in France and then come to work in New York City as a fashion designer. His urbane, cosmopolitan world is far removed from the impoverished velayat-e faqih rgime (absolute supremacy of clerical rule) that he left behind.

There have been 120,000 executions of political prisoners in Iran in the past 19 years according to the National Council of Resistance in Iran, a leading opposition group. And there are another 150,000-200,000 political prisoners who remain in jail. One of Pierre Garroudi's brothers spent almost nine years languishing in jail after unwittingly being scooped up off the streets during an anti-government protest.

Nonetheless, Garroudi, 38, remains optimistic. He can imagine the kind of borderless, harmonious world that John Lennon sang about. And, he earnestly believes that if the National Council of Resistance, or Mujahadeen comes to power that it will transform a land that has known 25 centuries of autocratic rule into a modern, secular democracy. The price of oil has recently plummeted on world markets. And, Garroudi says, the mullah's regime is facing increasing social unrest. When we met in front of the UN, he was eager to discuss the current situation in his homeland.

JT: Describe the situation in Iran right now.

PG: The Iranian government is a fundamentalist government. And the rules of stay in power is by torturing, execution. And especially people, mostly educated, they left the country. For example they have 20,000 Iranian medical doctors in Canada only. And imagine other European countries and also United States. Most of the brains fled Iran because they are scared to become executed or put in prison.

JT: Were you afraid for yourself when you lived in Iran?

PG: Oh definately. Because one of my brothers went in prison for almost nine years.

JT:During the Ayatollah Khomeini...

PG: Yes. And the only reason because he was in one of the demonstrations against the government. And they arrested him. The majority of his friends, they all got executed. I give you example. In a room of three yards by six yards, they put like around 100 people. Among those 100 people, five of them survived. One of those five was my brother. It's just amazing. Eventually he got released because they couldn't find any proof he did anything. He just mentioned that "I was on the street and they arrested me". But right now so far they executed 120,000 people. I can say 95% belong to the Iranian Resistance, which is the Mujahadeen.

JT: And what about the talk that the new government is moderate? Talk about this.

PG: Oh, this is just a political game.

JT: In order to accomplish what?

PG: To keep the government intact. To save the government. Because especially right now the price of oil came down below $9 or to $9 and something. And since the majority of the budget came from the selling of the oil, that's why the Iranian government right now is in deep trouble. One of the reasons is economic. The other reason is social. The majority of the students all around the country in different universities and the colleges are against the Iranian government.

  • JT: And do you think if this movement, the National Resistance, came to power that the human rights would be better in Iran?

    PG: Oh Definately.

    JT: Would they feel like they needed to kill their opponents?

    PG: No. This government doesn't understand diplomacy. You can't talk to them. There were some other small organizations that tried to talk to them. They say, "O.K., we don't fight them militarily." But they tried to talk to them. And the government killed them! In the meeting to negotiate. This government doesn't understand. And also as you know, the Iranian government is the first godfather of terrorism internationally.

    JT: Now, this government took over from the Shah's government, which also abused human rights. Why do you think the Iranian people were unable to make a new government that would do better than the Shah's?

    It's very easy. You create a State of Terror. And people will get afraid of doing any activity. Imagine, when 120,000 people got executed. And we have 150,000-200,000 political prisoners. At the same time, the Iranian government doing the terrorism outside the borders and overseas. The reason is to keep the mind off the situation happening in Iran. The same thing they went to war against Iraq, since they cannot solve the internal problem. So by external activity, he (Ayatollah Khomeini) moved the attention.

    JT: What was the feeling in Iran in 1979 right when the Shah was leaving?

    PG: People were so happy! It was really exhilirating that people had hope that a more democratic government would come. But unfortunately, the Shah government put most political activists in the prison. The persons who came and took it over were not the ones who were released from the prison of the Shah government. It was people like Khomeini. And they also are reactionary in terms of belief. The Iranian government has nothing to do with democracy. They use religion to stay in power and make the money and all this. So they become minority. They are holding the power and the rest of the people are living in poverty.

    JT: What does human rights mean to you? It's a big word.

    PG: Human rights is you have a right to speak. You have a right to choose the idea you have, the type of religion you want. Any type of activity you like to have, as long as you don't hurt other people, physically or mentally. You live your life according to natural law. I'm a human. I'm supposed to eat. I'm supposed to sleep. I'm supposed to follow the ideas I have. Or do any activities for the idea I have. That's basically the human rights.

    JT: How do you think the human rights will be in Iran 50 years from now?

    PG: Actually, 50 years from now, because of the InterNet, the borders will be taken out. The borders will be kind of meaningless because of the commercial activity that is going to happen. So in my idea people have to be free. And it will be very hard in the Age of Information to hold people against their will. Eventually everywhere, I hope, (it will be) like John Lennon said. Hopefully there will be no borders. (And) people will live happily ever after.

    Kashmir Singh—Sikh Separatist

    Kashmir Singh comes from Punjab, a fertile agricultural state in Northern India that has not known peace in two decades. And, with his flowing beard that reaches to his chest and a bright orange turbin that he wears around hair that has never been cut, he would be a marked man if he returned to India.

    Punjab is the breadbasket of India producing much of its wheat and rice. The word Punjab means "land of five rivers". And 65% of the state's 20 million inhabitants practice Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that took root in the region 500 years ago.

    Singh, 49, came to the United States in 1975 with $5, a one-way plane ticket and his newlywed wife. It was a time when ethnic tensions were just beginning to percolate. Singh found work as a busboy in an Alexandria, Virginia restaurant on his second day in the country. Seven months later he was working as a parking lot manager. Nowadays, he owns an auto body repair shop in Washington D.C., where he lives with his wife and three children.

    Over the years, human rights abuses worsened in Punjab. Indian security forces attacked the Sikh's Golden Temple in June 1984 and killed an estimated 5,000 pilgrims. Human rights organizations estimate that 4,000 to 6,000 people per year have been killed since then (mostly by police and paramilitary forces) in a conflict that continues with no end in sight. Roughly 200 Sikh men rallied in United Nations Plaza during the afternoon. Like Kashmir Singh, many of them wore orange turbins which signify a believer's willingness to suffer martyrdom for the cause of the Sikh people and their religion. And they called for a country of their own: Khalistan.

    JT: Tell me again what life is like for the Sikh people in the Punjab.

    KS: It was marvelous back when I left. There was nothing much going on. Now at this time we are not free. Any place we go we are searched before we enter the city or even our temples by the paramilitary and the police.

    JT: How would you describe the attitude of the Indian government toward religious minorities?

    KS: They are so upset with a religion like ours. Because they know we have basic freedom, basic principles which allow anyone to come into our religion and watch and worship. But they don't. And they are afraid (because) their religion has so many bad stuff and so many bad omens and so many Gods to name that they are losing their religion. So it (Sikhism) is a danger to their Hinduism. So that's why they only want Hinduism in their country, not nobody else. No other religion is safe in India at this point.

    JT: And how can this problem be solved between the Sikhs and the Hindus?

    KS: The only way is that we need our country back. Because in '47 they gave us fake promises that you come with us and if you are not satisfied for any reason, we'll give you your country back. We had our Sikh Empire back when the British came over there about 150 years ago. We had Sikh Empire which ran about 50 years in the Punjab region and surrounding provinces. So they said, "Come with us. And we'll take our share together with you, Sikhs and Hindus. And if you are not satisfied for any reason, we'll give you your country back." And our leaders demanded it back in (the) '70s. And they ( the Hindus ) say conditions changed.

    JT: Now, is the struggle to get your country back, is it violent or non-violent? What's the best way to achieve this?

    KS: Actually, it's non-violent. When all the resources and means are exhausted, one has to do something to protect himself. Because some families are completely vanished. They have finished total families like nobody is left. What you can do? There is no rule in the country. They don't have a rule that's written in the books. It's a so-called democracy. It's a shameful democracy. Their police and their paramilitary do whatever they want to do. They kill somebody and they blame it on the people. They say the freedom fighter have killed him. Lies after lies.

    JT: In India, the situation with the nuclear bombs, why is this happening?

    KS: Let me tell you there are so many hungry people sleeping on the street that don't have a place to hide their head at night. And they don't have enough food to eat. They don't have enough medication. But this is a race. They are trying to be superpower.

    JT: That can't feed their own people?

    KS: Look, go to the South (of India) and you see streets full of homeless people. They don't have food or clean water to drink. You go down into the countryside and more than 75% of the people are illiterate. They need schools! They need food for them. They need hospitals for the sick. But look how many billions of dollars they have spent for the Bomb. They are stupid. Wouldn't you say?

    JT: What does human rights mean for you and your people since today is the 50th Anniversary.

    KS: I tell you that human rights groups have saved so many innocent lives all over the world. Because human rights groups are kind of a shield for freedom fighters. We are asking for our rights. We are not trying to get somebody's country that did not belong to us. We have worked for it. It was our country. And the leadership have given us promises.

    JT: Last question: What do you think the situation with human rights will be like in India and in the Punjab in the next 50 years.?

    KS: If the Indian government prevails the way it is prevailing now, I don't think they are going to allow any human rights group to observe what kind of human rights violations are being committed every day. And I think they are trying to force us down, finish us, eliminate. So, anybody who says something about their rights or says something about their family, they just pick them up and kill them. They just eliminate them. And people are being scared. People are not safe. Lives of innocent people, lives of the common people in Punjab is not safe.

    Captain José Avila—Anti-Castro Cuban, Alpha 66

    Captain José Avila considers himself a freedom fighter. The government of Cuba calls him and other members of Alpha 66 terrorists.

    Avila, who is a 45 year-old construction worker in New Jersey, fled from Cuba with his family in 1968 when he was 15. A year later he joined Alpha 66, an implacable anti-Castro organization that was founded in 1961 by 66 surviving members of Brigade 2506, which was defeated at the Bay of Pigs. According to Avila, Alpha 66 has conducted over 100 raids inside of Cuban territory. It's most famous attack was the downing of a Cuban civilian airliner in 1973.

    Avila was one of the younger members of a contingent of 20-30 anti-Castro Cubans that protested across the street from the UN. He was certain about the rightness of his cause. And, he spoke in an earnest, straightforward way about his hopes that the present government of Cuba will soon be toppled.

    JT: So, why are you out here today?

    JA: Today we are in front of the United Nations Building commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights which was started by a group of Cubans 50 years ago, the descendants of which are right now being denied their human rights in Cuba.

    JT: What are the worst problems that are facing Cubans right now with human rights?

    JA: Right now, people don't have the freedom to travel. They don't have the freedom to worship. They don't have the freedom to choose their destiny. Even inside of Cuba, Cuba is being sectioned off so that the tourists have access to certain areas of Cuba which the Cuban people do not. We are also here talking about the human rights of the people that the United States is holding in prison because they were fighting against Castro. And they are being held inside United States prisons at this very moment.

    JT: How do you see the human rights situation improving in Cuba?

    JA: It's not going to improve as long as Castro is there. And Castro, when he came to the United Nations the last time he came to New York, he stated very clearly as long as he is alive he is going to rule Cuba. And as long as he rules Cuba, the Communist Party will be the only party allowed in Cuba.

    JT: And how do you feel about the Pope's visit to Cuba? He said the problem was the embargo and the isolation of Cuba.

    JA: The reason Castro allowed the Pope to come to Cuba: he wanted somebody to bring to the attention of the world the idea that the embargo is the cause of the problems in Cuba. The embargo, which the United States placed against Cuba, is there until Castro opens the polls and the people of Cuba have the freedom to choose. So if the embargo is having an effect on Castro, then all he has to do is allow the people to choose their destiny. Then that will be fine.

    JT: And Alpha 66, it's been accused of launching attacks against Cuba. Talk about this. Because the Cuban government labeled it a terrorist organization.

    JA: Yeah, the Cuban government has labeled us terrorists. But the fact is the Cuban people do not see us as terrorists. Because they know that we are struggling for their freedom. In 1961 Alpha 66 was organized in order to fight against Castro. We do not dialogue. We do not sit down and talk with them. We know that the only way Castro is going to come out of there is through bullets. And that's exactly what we're prepared to do.

    JT: On this day, what does human rights mean to you? And what do you see for the future of human rights around the world?

    JA: Today my dream is to be able to see my relatives in Cuba in a not too distant future being able to do what they want to without the fear of persecution, of having their neighbor turning them in, or having someone turning them in for fear of the government. And ( for them ) to be able to enjoy the same things we are enjoying in the United States

    Marcos Vilar—National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners

    The Puerto Ricans held the noisiest and the most festive of all the Human Rights Day protests.

    After attending an Interfaith worship service at the UN chapel, several hundred Puerto Ricans streamed out into the nearby Ralph Bunche Plaza. The youngish crowd marched to quick, pulsing drumbeats, holding aloft placards of 15 Puerto Rican political prisoners who werre arrested in 1980 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 35 to 105 years after being convicted of seditious conspiracy and other related charges.

    A Latina with a high-pitched voice called out the name of each of the prisoners: "Para Lucy y los demás...."

    And the marchers would respond enthusiastically: "Libertad! Libertad!"

    "Para Alicia y los demá...."

    "Libertad! Libertad!"

    "Para Edwin y los demás...."

    "Libertad! Libertad!"

    This year marks the centennial of the US invasion of Puerto Rico. And, for Marcos Vilar of the National Committe to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners, it has been the most important year to date in the campaign to have the prisoners released. Rallies have been staged across the country and over 100,000 petition signatures have been submitted to President Clinton urging him to grant Presidential pardons to the prisoners. Vilar stopped for a few minutes during the protest to talk about the Committee's work for human rights and how he came to be so passionately committed to the cause of Puerto Rican independence.

    JT: Can you describe the situation right now for the Puerto Rican political prisoners and also why it has inspired you to be here today?

    MV: Well, I've been in this campaign for 11 years now. I started when I was 23. I got involved in Chicago and I've been there. This last year has been very, very empowering, because we've known it was an important year. It was the centennial of the invasion of the United States in Puerto Rico. So it was important to come in and hit the issue really hard, take it to the street and really push for the release of the prisoners. And our work has definately had results at least in terms of getting some rumors coming out of Washington that this thing may happen, that our prisoners might be released. Of course until they are released, we are not counting on them being released. That's why we are here today on International Human Rights Day. The White House has written letters that they intend to make a decision reguarding their case this year. So that's why we are here today. A hundred of us traveled from Chicago. Some of us came from Boston, all the way from Orlando, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., all over.

    JT: This is the most vibrant of all the protests I've seen today. Can you talk a little bit about how this issue has caught on in your community?

    MV: It has not caught on. It has always been there.

    JT: There's so many young people is what I'm saying.

    MV: Well, that's something we've always stressed. That the struggle is something that has to be done not just by a generation of people who remember. But we must always teach our young people about our history, the repression against our people, and that this struggle is going to continue no matter what. So it's not a coincidence that so many young people are here. That's part of our struggle. I haven't seen a struggle like it. We have old people like Isabel Rosado who is 90 years-old and who is at every protest in Puerto Rico. To the youngest of our children, the babies that are brought to the protest. My own daughter is here today. She is 8 years-old. So, it's something that's in our culture. We are determined to continue the struggle until our island is free and the prisoners are released.

    JT: For you as a human rights activist, what first inspired you to care about what happened to other people in faraway prisons and places?

    MV: I wouldn't say that I've been inspired because I've always believed in this since I can remember as a child. I always believed that Puerto Rico should be free. I remember as a child watching the news and knowing that all the things that had been attempted to create Puerto Rico into a state, to maintain the Commonwealth status in Puerto Rico, that all those were tricks to eventually eliminate and destroy our nation and our people as a people. So I understood that when I was very young. That was something that wasn't very difficult for me to grasp. I've been aware of it all my life. And I've struggled for independence all my life. And I will continue. And it's something that is never going to end.

    JT: Last Question. On this Anniversary Day, what does Human Rights mean to you. It's a big word that alot of people embrace.

    MV: Human rights means that you have to have the right to express your opinion, to be able to demonstrate, to be able to struggle for the freedom of your people. It's much more than that. But that's why I'm here today.

    Bor-Cheng Hsu—Taiwanese Collegian

    At the end of World War II, Taiwan (or Formosa) was occupied by the Kuomintang of General Chiang Kai-shek, the losing side in the Chinese Civil War. And, four decades of martial law followed.

    During the past decade Taiwan has evolved into a prosperous and increasingly democratic nation of 22 million people. However, it is dwarfed by its neighbor, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), which has one of the world's most repressive governments. And, a movement for full and formal independence from China is gaining strength in Taiwan.

    For Bor-Cheng Hsu, a 21 year-old computer science student a SUNY-Binghampton, it is imperative that Taiwan declare its independence and become a fully recognized member of the international community before it is eventually absorbed into an increasingly bellicose China.

    JT: Can you tell me what brings you out here today?

    BCH: Ah Yes. Of course we know today is the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although this Declaration has brought human rights to many people around the world, there are still many parts of the world that human rights are not fully executed. Especially the ones listed in the Declaration. And, we came here to support many like East Timor, like East Turkistan, Tibet and many other groups and nations that are under occupation from other countries.

    JT: You're originally from Taiwan. Can you describe what about the situation in Taiwan warrants peoples' attention? Most people think of it as being in a fairly well-off position.

    BCH: For the past 20 or 30 years Taiwan was under White Terror, which means any people that's against the government would be arrested and disappeared. And in this period many Taiwanese freedom fighters have lost their lives or been jailed. And the democracy we wanted, we are seeing today. However, we have a very unfriendly neighbor, which is The Peoples' Republic of China. And they have denied us the right of self-determination. We want to become an independent country. Currently, more than 90% of the countries in the world recognize that Taiwan is apart of China. This is a very serious problem. Even though most people know that Taiwan is outside of China, the government will recognize it differently. The right to self-determination is apart of Declaration of Human Rights. So we want to protest that United Nations and other countries in the world ( are ) denying the Taiwanese right to self-determination.

    JT: So you don't see any possibility of reconciliation between Taiwan and China?

    BCH: There have been alot of talks going on between Taiwan and China. And recently about a month or two ago, the two organizations that represent the governments in Taiwan and China had a conference. However the conference reached nowhere because China only recognized Taiwan as a renegade province. We believe that even though the talks should go on, we should be in the same standing point.

    JT: How would things change for Taiwan if it was re-incorporated into the Peoples' Republic of China?

    BCH: Of course we gonna see alot of bad things happen. For the past 10, 20 years, Taiwan has a booming economy. And there are many, many Chinese people that want to smuggle into Taiwan, either by boat or plane. There were 14 hijacks in less than a year, because they want to come to Taiwan so badly. If Taiwan was eventually taken over by the Chinese, we gonna see a very big inflow of the Chinese to Taiwan, just to see how Taiwan looks like. And we will see the economy of Taiwan will crash eventually. And the booming economy, the democracy we enjoy today will eventually disappear.

    JT: For you on this day of the 50th Anniversary, what does human rights mean to you and what do you see for the future, for the world, and for the next 50 years.

    BCH: Of course what I wish is everything in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be fully executed and every country in the world could acknowledge what's inside and bring the human rights to their people, even though this is maybe a little bit unrealistic goal. But, I wish this could happen in less than 50 years

    Allan Nairn—Investigative Journalist

    Allan Nairn is an investigative journalist who has written articles for The Progressive about human rights violations in countries like Indonesia, Guatemala and Haiti which have been armed and financed by the United States. This is an excerpt from the final part of a speech he gave during a candlelight vigil that was held at UN Plaza.

    AN: "....The trail leads right back here. Right back to the United States, to the Oval Office, to the State Department, to the Pentagon, where the weapons and the training and the financing and the political cover are coming from. So when they day comes that not just General Pinochet, but when high U.S. officials like Bill Clinton, George Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Madelaine Albright are made to answer for their deeds just as Pinochet is now facing, then we will truly be able to say that we have made a step toward civilization, a step toward making a Declaration of Human Rights real. But at this point we're not even close.

    That's why we have to enlist so many more people to expand the movement for basic human rights and justice. This is not a matter of Left or Right. It's not a matter of ideology. It's a matter of law, order and basic human decency. And being willing to stand up against the most horrible crimes that one can imagine. Thank you."

    Thinley Kalseng—Tibetan Student

    Thinley Kalseng, 25, was born in exile in Northern India 13 years after his father fled from Tibet. And, he looks forward to returning someday to a homeland that he has known only in his dreams; a mountainous land at the top of the world which has been closed to outsiders for four decades by its Chinese rulers.

    Kalseng arrived in the United States a couple of years ago and is currently living in the Queens on the other side of the East River. He has studied political science, economics and history. He is waiting to receive political asylum and hopes to continue his studies in international relations.

    JT: For somebody from Tibet, what does this day mean for you? The day of the Declaration of Human Rights.

    TK: We take this day to remind the United Nations to do something about Tibet, because Tibet doesn't have human rights.

    JT: Describe the situation in Tibet right now with human rights.

    TK:Most of the people who enter Tibet, they say Tibet since the Second World War the worst tragedy is going on in Tibet. And nobody can hear us, because we don't have any freedom of expression (or) freedom of journalists over there.

    JT: How is the Chinese government treating people in their daily lives in Tibet?

    TK: You can just compare the Chinese own people. They kill their own people. And you can just imagine how they treat Tibetan people.

    JT: What kind of future do you see for Tibet? Can it improve?

    TK: We are looking forward to a future independence still of Tibet.

    JT: And what about the possibility of the Dalai Lama going back?

    TK: We always believe (this) because we believe that truth will prevail. And we have a truth.

    JT: Describe that truth for me.

    TK: We havve historical facts that Tibet was an independent country. It was only occupied by China in 1959. Before that it was an independent country. We have a historical proof. We have a religious council. Everything was quite different from today. And we believe that truth will prevail. And His Holiness one day very soon can go back to Tibet as the leader of Tibet.

    JT: You must miss your country every day.

    TK: I miss my country very much. I miss my people over there. I am afraid because every day people are just wiping out. Tibetans are killed every day. Nobody sees that. This makes the tragedy of Tibet deeper.

    Pema Dorjee—Tibetan Monk

    Pema Dorjee is a squat, barrel-chested Tibetan monk who will take your forearm lightly but firmly to emphasize a point he is making. He is a serene warm-hearted man with dark, twinkling eyes. Of all the people I talked to, he was the only one who emphatically rejected the use of violence and who instead advocated using kindness and compassion to transform the oppressor.

    JT: Can you describe the situation right now in Tibet for the people who are still living there and their ability to practice their religion?

    PD: Yeah, they do practice. But they are not allowed to. They have no religious right of practice. They don't have a human right. They are in a horrible situation in Tibet. The Chinese even killing young Tibetans and taking their organs to China. They destroyed the environment. They cut down all the lumbers. They are dumping nuclear waste in Tibet. In the monastaries they have not education systems. They not allowed to study. They just give lectures and training for brainwash things. They have no educational system in Tibet at all. Even in the schools the kids cannot learn Tibetan in Tibet.

    JT: And what brings you here today to New York.

    PD: We want to ask United Nations to help us to bring Tibet the democracy (and) human rights in Tibet. We need religious practice in Tibet, because Tibetan life depends on the religious practice. Without religion, we have no life. Not only this life, next life. We believe we have a next life we can enter through practice of religion.

    JT: And with the Buddhism in Tibet, can you talk about how that deepens a person's understanding of human rights? Because sometimes religion is used to abuse human rights in other parts of the world.

    PD: No, no the thing is this way. Buddhism says that without others you do not exist. So all Buddhism teaching leads to two points: Their is View and Action. View is we are all interdependent. So without others you cannot survive. We believe all sentinent beings are so kind to us. Because of others, we exist, we do everything. And then, Action. We says non-violence because the other is so kind to you. So you don't want to harm anybody else. If you harm others, you cannot be happy. Cause and effect says if you do harm others, you have to pay for that action. It comes when you don't have anything. You have to pay physically, mentally. You have to pay result of that action. Not just one lifetime. Many lifetimes you have to pay. Because of that we don't harm others.

    JT: Even the Chinese?

    PD: Oh we don't harm others. That's why people are helping the Chinese beggars and disabled who are coming to Tibet. We are not killing them. We are feeding them, trying to make understand what is the positive, what is negative within a human society.

    JT: Have the terrible things that the Chinese have done to your people, has that ever made you doubt the wisdom of the non-violent approach to winning your freedom?

    PD: We will gain (it) some day. It takes time. We know that. Killing has no end. If we kill them, there is no end at all. But we believe that they are human beings; that we are human beings. We all have same sense of happiness and don't want suffering. I hope they understand someday how we treat them in a human way.

    Also the people of the world can help us. Because if you get a free Tibet not only a benefit to Tibet but helps all Asia, because according to ecology six major rivers coming from Tibet. So ( the rivers) go through Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, china. So if you keep Tibet clean, in good condition, you will survive better. There will be no pollution. Tibet is like a hat of the world. It's on top of the world. If you destroy your brain, your body cannot work at all. Because the Chinese dumping nuclear waste in Tibet means we are all under the hat. Everywhere water goes, we can die. We don't want to happen that. JT: Today is the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human rights. How do you see the next 50 years going?

    PD: I don't think we have to wait that much. Soon we will gain.

    JT: Not only for Tibet. But for the world?

    PD: I know. Soon it will be changed. Definately. Even in Tibet and China they will change soon. Within 20 years, there will be big change now. No problem. Within 50 years, we will be very happy and peaceful world.

    JT: How?

    PD: I'm asking everybody to please give education to younger generations to please understand what is human and what is harmful—weapons and harming others.

    JT: Yes.

    PD: If we need happy, we happy. Teach our kids to become more humor and warm-hearted, compassionate person, kindness person.

    Enhebatu—Recently Arrived Political Refugee from Inner Mongolia

    Many of the people at the Human Rights Day rallies originally came from places like Sri Lanka, Punjab, East Turkistan and Tibet that are far removed from the American consciousness. And none seemed to have come from further away than Enhebatu.

    Enhebatu is a kind, moon-faced man who fled from Chinese Inner Mongolia to Japan a year ago and recently arrived in the United States with his 8 year-old son. He was decked out in the brightly-colored traditional dress of his people. And despite only two months experience in speaking English, he did his best to convey what has happened to his people in Inner Mongolia.

    JT: Tell me about the situation in Inner Mongolia right now and how human rights are being treated.

    E: I think Inner Mongolian human rights situation is very bad. Badder than Tibetan. But unfortunately our situation is ignored worldwide.

    JT: Tell me more. What kind of things are the Chinese doing to the people of Inner Mongolia? What kind of abuses are happening?

    E: Cultural. Our traditional culture destroyed by the Chinese. In the Cultural Revolution, a half-million Inner Mongolians killed by Chinese.

    JT: And the Chinese tried to enforce the Communist Doctrine on the people of Inner Mongolia?

    E: Yes.

    JT: And what was your life like in Inner Mongolia before you and your family left? Did you live in fear?

    E: Yes...My family very, very bad....

    JT: How were you able to go away?

    E: I go to Japan. From Japan, I go to America.

    JT: Today is the anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration. For you what does it mean?

    E: I appeal to U.N. and international community to pay more attention to Inner Mongolian human rights situation.

    Sharon Silber—Jews Against Genocide

    Sharon Silber works as a psychotherapist at New York's Beth Israel hospital. She and some other activists on New York's Upper West Side started Jews Against Genocide five years ago in response to the Bosnian War in which an eerily familiar policy of "ethnic cleansing" was being carried out by the Serbs against the Bosnian minority.

    Silber has traveled twice to Bosnia. And, Jews Against Genocide has participated in teach-ins, conferences, candle light vigils, acts of civil disobedience, workshops, write-ins and has lobbied local and national politicians. As time passes, their commitment deepens. Jews Against Genocide has gone onto co-sponsor events concerning East Timor, Tibet and South Sudan.

    JT: Can you tell me a little bit Sharon about the special voice that Jews can bring to a day like this.

    SS: For us as Jewish activists, we really feel that it's important to speak out as Jews, against genocide and against human rights violations. Many of these documents that you mention were written specifically to prevent what happened during the Holocaust from happening again. And yet we see that all over the world these things are happening again. They're still happening. Genocide has happened in many countries since the Holocaust. And so we feel it's very important to speak out about this. To say: "what about the genocides that are happening now?".

    JT: And your group has focused specifically on the war in Bosnia.

    SS: Our group originally formed because we couldn't quite believe that genocide was happening in Europe, under our noses, filmed by TV crews, with the U.N. standing there and yet people were being slaughtered and actually prevented from defending themselves.

    JT: And you say that the response of the Left was also lethargic.

    SS:Yeah, we were very disappointed Many of us are on the Left ourselves. And it really seemed as though the Left didn't recognize that this wa a struggle against Fascist governments, against radical right-wing ideologies. And the Left seemed very susceptible in many cases to a kind of pro-Serbian propaganda. And because America's rhetoric was very pro-Bosnia, the Left was anti-Bosnia. And that's not universally so I have to say. There were some people—Chris Hitchens, Ian Williams—who really wrote cogent articles arguing for a Left response.

    JT: It almost seems in some way like a replay of what happened 20 years ago with the denial of what the Khmer Rouge was doing in Cambodia. I mean the Left seems to give this knee-jerk reaction of being against U.S. policy no matter what.

    SS: Right. Although there, I think Cambodia was complicated by the terrible bombing that we did in Cambodia. I think the Left sometimes paints a more uniform picture than is actually warranted.

    JT: On a personal level, what first moved you just as a person to care about issues like this, about things that happen to people in faraway places that you may never even see?

    SS: Well I think for me it was really the experience of my family. My father is from a small town in Lithuania. And growing up I heard his stories about his family being killed by people who lived around them. For much of the Holocaust, it wasn't German soldiers and it wasn't concentration camps where Jews were killed. It was people being killed by neighbors and paramilitaries. And when it was neighbors and paramilitaries operating in Bosnia, I felt like I really understood what was going on there. It was so much the same. And I think many of us, even people in our group who didn't necessarily have close family ties to what happened in the Holcaust, but still as Jews were knowledgeable about it, really felt a sense of obligation to respond and say, "we know what this is and it cannot be tolerated". JT: As a Jew and a activist, how do you feel about the tendency sometimes in Israel to use the horrible things that happened with the Nazis to justify anything that Israel does to defend itself against the Palestinians and the Arabs?

    SS: Well, I think it's terrible of course. But I don't think it's limited to Israel. I think in America as well a kind of right-wing Jewish agenda is sometimes promoted with the idea that because terrible things happened to us, we should only care about our people and promote their interests at any cost. Our groups actually received some threats early on from right-wing Jewish organizations because they were very upset that Jews were doing things to help Moslems. So I think that kind of mindset is incredibly misguided. I mean obviously we all need to care about everyone. When genocide happens to people of any ethnicity, it really happens to everyone. And it's important as a Jew to speak out about that.

    JT: We live pretty comfortable lives here in the United States.

    SS: Absolutely.

    JT: And, can you tell me a little bit about how Americans can become more involved and contribute to the cause of human rights both inside the United States and around the world.

    SS: Well, I think that, like it or not, we are the only superpower. And we have a real luxury in this country. If we speak out, nothing happens to us. In Tibet, if somebody holds up a picture of the Dali Lama they can end up in prison for that. And here we can speak out about issues. And we can actually affect world policy in a really signifigant way. So I think it's really important to speak out.

    When you meet activists from other countries who are working under these extraordinarily difficult conditions—and I've worked alot with people from East Timor and talked to people from Tibet, and people in Kosovo we're working with now—the extraordinary difficulties that these people go through at risk to their lives in order to speak out is just incredibly inspiring. And so you feel like "why aren't we speaking out about these things. We really need to".

    Human Rights Links

    Full Text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Amnesty International
  • Amnesty International on the InterNet
  • U. of Minnesota Peace Resource Center
  • Physicians for Human Rights

  • School of the Americas Watch


    Proposition One Committee

    More Links

    Letters to Public Officials

    Address for U.S. House of Representatives

    Address for the U.S. Senate

    White House Address

    U.S. State Department of State, Assistant Secretary for Human Rights

    A Note on Letter Writing:

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