December 10 is International Human Rights Day and also the 24th Anniversary of the establishment of the International Human Rights Commission. Defending human rights is about the individuals and organizations (NGOs) that are the eyes, ears, and frequently the conscience and at times architects of the global framework now gradually evolving. In 24 years, the first war crimes tribunals were established by the United Nations ICTY (ex-Yugoslavia) and then ICTR (Rwanda). The Rome Statute brought to fruition the commitment of experts, scholars and human rights defenders – the International Criminal Court (ICC) came into being probably much earlier than most of us would have expected.

More recently, the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have played an ever more critical role. In the new revolutions, particularly in the Arab World, international humanitarian law more than sovereignty are the relevant standard, both in deposing the despots and then in legally dealing with them and their alleged crimes. Even the crimes of the Cambodia Killing Fields are now being brought to light and at least some notion of justice more than 30 years after. The “duty to protect” shows an evolving proactive rather than reactive force – one that will ideally confront genocide and other abuses before they become smears on our humanity and shared history.

Undoubtedly there are setbacks and many. We don’t need to highlight them here although it is a good practice whenever self-congratulation is part of the agenda. However, the slate no longer can be simply erased just because of time or size of eraser. History remembers because of justice. Justice is served better because legality has the framework. Legality functions in large part because it has committed people and institutions as the International Human Rights Commission to remind.

Rather than being less important because of the development of such institutions as the ICC or UN Human Rights Council, the International Human Rights Commission is ever more relevant. Impunity is still possible but crimes against fellow man in obscurity are increasingly of the past – it is not about the social media, but the people behind such. Further, the ICC or UN or many such institutions do not have a clearly defined constituency beyond member state governments. The Commission acts in part as a set of concerned and involved global citizens. The Commission no only records history and looks to attribute responsibility but also demands accountability of institutions increasingly speaking/working on behalf of global citizens. It thus also shapes the debate and future development of such institutions where there is a significant distance, perhaps vacuum between them and the global citizen.

There are still many hurdles to overcome, even in defining human rights, international humanitarian law and its methodology. Is the right to food a human right? Do people have a fundamental right to a fair wage or education or health care? Are women and men, girls and boys to be afforded the same rights? Will gender, race, religion, income/wealth, age,perceived disability, sexual orientation or simply nationality become a new basis for a caste system flourishing in reality but rhetorically denied? Are justice, punishment and the death penalty correlated? Is the basis for legality’s methodology common law, civil law, cannon law and/or Sharia? Is it subject to selective application or founded in more objective investigative resources? The International Human Rights Commission is the model for the work of global citizens united in the sense of impartiality without prejudice based on old divisions and with commitment to fair play and justice for humanity. Peace and opportunity is product sought.

That we ask these questions is real progress as compared to a past when it all seemed so far out of reach, including other like committed global citizens. Again Happy Birthday International Human Rights Commission and may the next Human Rights Day, 2013, be commemorated with an even greater sense of progress.

Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey

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