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Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70
by UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR)
It has been 70 years since world leaders explicitly spelled out the rights everyone on the planet could expect and demand simply because they are human beings. Born of a desire to prevent another Ho­locaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to demonstrate the power of ideas to change the world.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted on 10 December 1948. To mark the anniversary, every day for the next 30 days the UN Human Rights Office is publishing fact sheets to put each of the Declaration’s 30 Articles into perspective. The series will attempt to show how far we have come, how far we have to go, and honour those who helped breathe life into stirring aspirations.
Although the world has changed dramatically in 70 years – the drafters did not foresee the challenges of digital privacy, artificial intelligence or climate change – its focus on human dignity continues to pro­vide a solid basis for evolving concepts of freedoms.
The universal ideals contained in the Declaration’s 30 Articles range from the most fundamental – the right to life – to those that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health and liberty. Emphasizing the inherent dignity of every human being, its Preamble underlines that human rights are “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
With the memories of both World Wars and the Great Depression still fresh in their minds, the drafters spelled out what cannot be done to human beings and what must be done for them.
Chilean drafter Hernán Santa Cruz observed that the then 58 member states of the UN had agreed that human rights derive from “the fact of existing” – they are not granted by any state. This recognition, he said “gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality.”
Because they are inherent to every woman, man and child, the rights listed in the 30 Articles are in­divisible – they are all equally important and cannot be positioned in a hierarchy. No one human right can be fully realised without realising all other rights. Put another way, denial of one right makes it more difficult to enjoy the others.
The UDHR has an amazing legacy. Its universal appeal is reflected in the fact that it holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated document – available to date in 512 languages, from Abkhaz to Zulu.
The document presented to the UN in 1948 was not the detailed binding treaty that some of the dele­gates expected. As a declaration, it was a statement of principles, with a notable absence of detailed legal formulas. Eleanor Roosevelt, first chair of the fledgling UN Commission on Human Rights and widow of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, repeatedly stressed the need for “a clear, brief text, which could be readily understood by the ordinary man and woman.”
It took 18 more years before the two binding international treaties that shaped international human rights for all time were adopted: the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were adopted in 1966, and, together with the Declaration, are known as the International Bill of Human Rights.
Over the past 70 years, the UDHR has permeated virtually every corner of international law. Its prin­ciples are embedded in national legislations, as well as important regional treaties, and more than 90 states have enshrined its language and principles in their Constitutions. Many UN treaties, including those on the rights of women and children, on torture, and on racial discrimination, are derived from specific UDHR articles.
Today, all UN Member States have ratified at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties, and 80 percent have ratified four or more, giving concrete expression to the universality of the UDHR and international human rights.
Such progress has often been the result of heroic struggles by human rights advocates. “Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy,” said Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmental campaigner and Nobel laureate. “These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
The entire text of the UDHR was composed in less than two years, an extraordinary consensus reached at a time when the world had recently divided into the Communist East and Western blocs, when lynch­ing was still common in the United States and Apartheid was being consolidated in South Africa.
The Syrian representative to the UN at the time observed that the Declaration was not the work of the General Assembly, but “the achievement of generations of human beings who had worked to that end.”
However, the task of crystalizing it on paper fell to a small group of drafters from varied backgrounds, including Chinese playwright Chang Peng-Chun and Dr Charles Malik, a Lebanese philosopher and diplomat. The fact that “man” in previous documents became “everyone” in the UDHR was thanks to women delegates such as Hansa Mehta from India, Minerva Bernardino from the Dominican Republic, and Begum Shaista Ikramullah from Pakistan.
The final draft was presented to the General Assembly, at a late-night session in Paris on 9 December 1948, by a descendant of slaves, the Haitian delegate Emile Saint-Lot. The draft resolution on human rights, he said, was “the greatest effort yet made by mankind to give society new legal and moral foundations.”
Even the venue for the General Assembly session was poignant. The Palais de Chaillot was the van­tage point from which Adolf Hitler had been photographed, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, during his short tour of the city in 1940 – an iconic image of the Second World War.
The following day, 10 December (now celebrated annually as Human Rights Day), 58 countries brought human rights into the realm of international law, amplifying the seven references to the term in the UN’s founding Charter, which made promotion and protection of human rights a key purpose and guiding principle of the organization.
Drafters had examined some 50 contemporary constitutions to ensure inclusion of rights from around the world. Great inspiration had also been provided by the Four Freedoms proclaimed by U.S. Pres­ident Franklin Roosevelt in 1941. He defined essential human freedoms as freedom of speech, free­dom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear, and explained that “freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.”
The UDHR advanced from rights restricted to citizens (as in the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) to the rights of humans, equal for all whether they belonged to a particular country or not. It also clearly repudiated the notion that states had free rein to do what they liked to people on their territory. At the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1945 and 1946, Nazi leaders had main­tained they could not be held guilty of the newly-conceived “crimes against humanity” because, in the words of Hitler’s deputy, Hermann Goering, “…that was our right! We were a sovereign State and that was strictly our business.”
The elevation of human rights to the international level means that behaviour is no longer governed solely by national standards. And since the UDHR’s adoption, its core principle that human rights cannot be set aside for the sake of political or military expediency has been progressively absorbed not just into international law, but also into an ever expanding web of regional and national legislation and institutions, including those established by the Organization of American States and the African Union and in Europe.
Every country now is subject to external scrutiny – a concept that led to establishment of the Inter­national Criminal Court in 1998, as well as UN International criminal tribunals and special courts for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Cambodia and East Timor.
There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of independent UN experts and committees who monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties, and the UN Human Rights Council has established a system, known as the Universal Periodic Review, under which all states have their human rights record examined by each other every five years.
Praised as a living document, the UDHR stimulated movements, such as that opposing Apartheid, and opened the door to the elaboration of new rights, such as the right to development. The bar is contin­ually being raised on some rights enumerated in the UDHR, such as the concept of what constitutes a fair trial. Newer rights treaties, such as that on disabilities, have been drafted not only by experts, but with the direct involvement of those affected.
On the other hand, 70 years on, racism, discrimination and intolerance remain among the greatest challenges of our time. Rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly – indispensable to the functioning of civil society – continue to come under attack in all regions of the world. Govern­ments are often ready to sidestep or trample on rights in the pursuit of what they see as security, or to maintain power or sustain corruption. Despite the fact that all 193 UN member states subscribe to the Declaration, none of them fully lives up to its promise.
As Nelson Mandela noted in his 1998 speech to the General Assembly marking the UDHR’s 50th anniversary, their failures to do so “are not a pre-or­dained result of the forces of nature or a product of the curse of the deities. They are the consequences of decisions which men and women take or refuse to take.” A product of poor political, economic and other forms of leadership.
Yet, at the same time, the UDHR continues to provide the basis for discussion of burning new issues, such as climate change, which “undermines the enjoyment of the full range of human rights – from the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health,” in the words of former UN rights chief Mary Robinson. And the rights it asserts are at the heart of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to create a better world by 2030 by, among others, ending poverty and hunger.

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No more empty promises, the time for action on corruption is now
by Transparency International
Dec. 2018
No more empty promises, the time for action on corruption is now, by Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International
The 9th of December marks International Anti-Corruption Day an important opportunity to highlight the stories of citizens in the fight against corruption across the globe.
It is also an historic moment, marking the fifteen years since the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was adopted, making it the largest international anti-corruption treaty with nearly 186 country signatories to date. It also marks the 25th anniversary of Transparency International.
As we commemorate, these landmarks, we find ourselves at a critical tipping point in the fight against corruption worldwide.
Together, with the global anti-corruption community, we’ve made some progress in preventing and sanctioning corruption and the corrupt. Today, fighting corruption is not only firmly on the international agenda, corruption has ceased to be an acceptable cost of doing business in many countries.
Thanks to the hard work of many anti-corruption fighters, we have international, regional and national anti-corruption conventions; laws that promote access to information critical to exposing and ending corruption; and national anti-corruption authorities and agencies to enforce anti-corruption measures.
However, while progress has been made, there is still much work left to do.
A growing number of countries have criminalised bribery, increased transparency in public procurement, implemented requirements for companies to disclose their ultimate owners, and extended rules and regulations to the private sector. However, while policies and standards are necessary, they are not enough to turn the tide against corruption.
Governments and businesses need to implement and report on anti-corruption efforts, promote access to information for citizens and comply with rules, standards and principles.
Transparency International, and its chapters in more than 100 countries, are working to track the compliance of governments and business in keeping their commitments and report on any improvements or failures in their efforts.
The time for new promises, unrealized commitments and fig leaf declarations is over; for government and businesses alike. Citizens deserve better than well-intentioned words, now is the time for action.
Global setbacks
Despite some advances, many countries controlled by powerful elites still protect corrupt individuals, grant pardons or pass special laws that benefit a select few. Even more alarming, many of the same political elites try to stop investigative journalists and anti-corruption activists and organizations from speaking out.
As a global community, we need to work together to protect and defend civil society whenever and wherever whistleblowers, activists, journalists or civil society organisations (CSOs) are attacked or harassed. When we protect their rights, we defend the rights and freedoms of everyone.
Priorities for the future
The fight against corruption requires a multi-pronged and synchronized approach to effectively prevent and sanction those who take part in corruption.
We won’t end corruption without coordinated action from businesses, governments, communities and activists. A simple formula for an anti-corruption program involves four lines of action: more information, more integrity, less impunity and less indifference.
The good and bad of technology
Greater access to information won’t be achieved by simply approving laws, creating specialized offices or increasing access to data. While those actions go a long way in promoting transparency, they are most effective when combined with other important mechanisms.
Technology offers powerful new tools that can strengthen our access to information. At its best, technology can help people combat corruption in their daily lives. This ranges from improving the ease with which people can report issues or rate public services, to their ability to monitor political spending or gather signatures for online petitions.
However, we should also be aware of the challenges that technologies pose to individual rights and freedoms, clean and fair elections, political participation and other key aspects of democracy. Technology can also be misappropriated and used in sophisticated ways to hide money and obscure illicit transactions.
Ending impunity and promoting judicial independence
While it may seem obvious, it is essential for corrupt individuals to be held accountable for their actions and face both timely and appropriate consequences. Otherwise, what’s to prevent those individuals from continuing to act corruptly or deter other individuals from doing the same?
At the same time, we need to work hard to guarantee that public prosecutors and judges are independent and have the resources and legal authority they need to efficiently investigate, prosecute and sanction those involved in corrupt deals.
Improving integrity
Even those countries that score at the top of our Corruption Perceptions Index are not immune to corruption. Many clean countries operate as safe havens for money launderers, enabling a flow of dirty money across the globe that can often be difficult to detect. Double standards should not exist for those countries that export corruption beyond borders or protect the corrupt, their families or their assets through Golden Visa programs.
Working together to make a difference
To tackle corruption successfully, we need to work together. We need to involve more women and youth. And we need to strengthen and rebuild trust with ordinary citizens, who are the real victims of corruption.
Corrupt individuals rob countries of the necessary resources to support infrastructure, hospitals, schools, sanitation and opportunities for development. Stolen funds not only line the pockets of powerful elites, they damage the lives of everyday people by preventing access to lifesaving services.
A call to action for citizens
Social indifference is a breeding ground for corruption. Beyond institutional reforms, commitment and participation from citizens is essential. If corrupt individuals continue to win votes and elections, they will continue to abuse their power and use their position to protect themselves.
On this International Anti-Corruption Day, citizens should send their leaders a clear message: they will no longer tolerate corruption in their country. The fight against corruption is also a fight for transparency, integrity, equality, good governance, rule of law and a strong democracy. Not in their own right, but for the wellbeing and security of billions of global citizens.
Corruption robs schools, hospitals and others of vitally needed funds, by António Guterres.
Corruption is present in all countries, “rich and poor, North and South, developed and developing,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN Security Council, at a September session on tackling corruption.
“Numbers show the startling scope of the challenge,” the UN chief said, citing World Economic Forum estimates that corruption costs at least $2.6 trillion. And according to the World Bank, businesses and individuals pay more than $1 trillion in bribes each year.
Corruption robs schools, hospitals and others of vitally needed funds. It rots institutions, as public officials enrich themselves or turn a blind eye to criminality. It deprives people of their rights, drives away foreign investment and despoils the environment.
Corruption breeds disillusion with government and governance – and is often at the root of political dysfunction and social disunity. The poor and vulnerable suffer disproportionately. And impunity compounds the problem.
Corruption can be a trigger for conflict. As conflict rages, corruption prospers. And even if conflict ebbs, corruption can impede recovery.
Corruption drives and thrives on the breakdown of political and social institutions. These institutions are never more in crisis than in times of conflict.
Corruption is linked to many forms of instability and violence, such as the illicit trafficking in arms, drugs and people. Assets stolen through corruption can be used to finance further crimes, including violent extremist and terrorist acts.
Large-scale corruption surveys conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that bribery of public officials was particularly high in areas affected by conflict. In conflict situations, stakeholders such as anti-corruption commissions, civil society and the media may be weakened or hindered in their essential work.
The consequences of corruption in times of conflict can be especially devastating as they can affect the most basic needs and exacerbate hunger and poverty.
Member States must be on the frontlines in the fight against corruption. It is especially important to build up the capacity of national anti-corruption commissions and prosecutorial efforts.
Governments can also enhance anti-corruption efforts by ensuring independent judiciaries, a vibrant civil society, freedom of the media and effective whistleblower protections.
The international community can complement those efforts by working more effectively against money laundering, tax evasion and the illicit financial flows that have deprived countries of much-needed resources, and that feed further corruption.
I have called for heightened efforts to prevent conflict and to address risks early, before they escalate. In that spirit, combatting corruption and addressing governance challenges, which lie at the root of many conflicts, must be a component of preventive approaches.
As I said to the General Assembly last May in marking the 15th anniversary of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the role of the UN is crucial. Before the adoption of the Convention, there was no global instrument to criminalize corruption, or to recover stolen proceeds. Now the Convention has 186 States Parties, and the crime of corruption is on the books of nearly every country in the world.
The Convention’s review mechanisms serve as a global framework for international cooperation to strengthen prevention, to disrupt money laundering schemes, return stolen proceeds from foreign banks and other necessary actions. I encourage all Member States to bring greater resolve to its implementation.
Let us also take profit of advances of technology, which give us an opportunity to massively expand public participation in governance and to increase accountability.
At the same time, we know that conventions and legal measures must be empowered by strong leadership that elevates corruption as a serious concern and makes it a priority for action.
People across the world continue to express outrage at the corruption of their leaders, and at how deeply corruption is embedded in societies. They are rightly calling for political establishments to operate with transparency and accountability – or make way for those who will.
I call on leaders everywhere to listen, to nurture a culture of integrity and to empower citizens to do their part at the grass roots.
We must all do more to fight corruption, strengthen governance and build trustworthy institutions that can ensure probity and progress for all.
30 Nov. 2018
G20 Implement your Anti-Corruption Commitments, by Maria Emilia Berazategui, Poder Ciudadano. (TI Argentinian Chapter)
In recent years, major cross-border grand corruption scandals have rocked G20 countries. Many of these cases have a common denominator: anonymous companies. Companies that hide the identity of the person at the source of the funds have been used to not only launder stolen money, but also to operationalise corrupt deals by using companies and offshore accounts to pay bribes or buy influence. These anonymous companies hide the identity of those that ultimately own, benefit or control a company or legal arrangement, the beneficial owners.
This is despite the G20 adopting High Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency in 2014; and again in 2016, several G20 members adopted further commitments linked to beneficial ownership transparency at the London Anti-Corruption Summit.
On paper, these positive steps provide grounds for optimism, yet more than three years after the G20 Beneficial Ownership Principles were adopted, the pace at which G20 countries have started implementing their commitments is too slow and too uneven. In contrast to the advances in transparency that are taking place in the European Union, Latin America and potentially even in tax shelters such as the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands, Argentina has recently taken a significant step back in the fight against corruption.
In August of this year, the current G20 host country and current chair of its Anti-Corruption Working Group, decided to weaken its tools to tackle the abuse of legal entities that are incorporated or operating in its territory. Through a resolution the Argentinian government eliminated the obligation to make publicly available the list of shareholders of a foreign company that wishes to operate in the country.
Although the requirement to submit a sworn declaration about the beneficial owners of the company still remains, the obligation of presenting this declaration every year has been abolished. This means that the government now has less information about the real owners of companies, and the sources of their money. A convenient loophole for corruption.
Transparency in beneficial ownership is one of the leading concerns of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group. Representing civil society, the C20 is one of the seven Engagement Groups of the G20, and has made concrete proposals that Argentina and other G20 countries should implement in order to tackle the abuse of anonymous companies:
Implement a public, central register on beneficial ownership. Timely access to sufficient, accurate and up-to-date information about companies and the people who ultimately own and benefit from them is vital in order to tackle corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. Information is the key and, without public registers, getting and sharing information is very difficult.
A public, central register is the most effective and practical way to avoid diverging standards in access to beneficial ownership information and to facilitate cross-border investigations and international cooperation.
Request all companies that bid for public contracts to publish beneficial ownership information in order to identify potential conflicts of interest, reduce the opportunities for collusion between linked companies, create fair competition for companies and ensure full knowledge of who is ultimately benefitting from public money. This is an easy solution for countries facing delays in the implementation of their public, central beneficial ownership registers.
Use existing platforms, such as national anti-corruption strategies or Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plans, to draw all the international commitments linked to beneficial ownership into the national sphere, in a format that is more easily implemented and context-specific, and with a specific deadline.
It’s not possible to successfully fight against corruption without solid policies and legal frameworks that tackle the use of anonymous companies. As a group of leading economies, the G20 countries should be at the forefront of change. The G20 Summit that gets under way in Buenos Aires tomorrow is an opportunity to reaffirm their commitments, but will G20 leaders go beyond words?

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