Alfred Moses, Chair of UN Watch, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Special Presidential Envoy for the Cyprus Conflict, and Special Counsel to President Jimmy Carter, addresses the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the UN Charter:
“Human rights were a cause that the world celebrated, but that changed with time.”
On the promise of 1989:
“When the Berlin Wall came down, in November 1989, we again celebrated human rights, as Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union disappeared. We celebrated. We thought human rights had indeed arrived. It is the end of history.”
On why we must act:
“We’ve missed opportunities. Think of Tahrir square, within the last decade. It didn’t have to produce General Sisi. It could have produced a liberal democracy.”
“Those opportunities will reoccur. It’s up to us to create liberal democracies.”
“We can’t look at the others. Don’t look at the United Nations. The responsibility lies not with them. It lies with us and with the countries we come from.”
I’ve seen you before, for 12 years. You have seen me before, but the fact is that I’m a member of a minority, and one of the few people here who will be speaking, who is not a human rights hero. I’ve never been in prison. I’ve never been beaten. My family has never been threatened. I’ve lived in a liberal democracy for almost 10 generations, probably 10 decades. I’m privileged and lucky, but I am concerned, I feel deeply for those of you today who recounted the horrors that you’ve endured, the persecutions the members of your family have suffered, the deprivations that have been part of your lives. All that you have lost concerns me and everyone here deeply. As Irwin Cotler said, this is the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter in San Francisco. It was the product of creativity and foresightedness and large thinking on the part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He did not live to see the adoption of the Charter. It was signed on behalf of the United States by his successor, Harry Truman and, per time, the words of the UN Charter resounded throughout the world. Human rights were a cause that the world celebrated, but that changed with time. Sure, there have been rebirths. When Jimmy Carter was president of the United States, human rights were at the forefront of US foreign policy, not the realpolitik of Henry Kissinger or the realpolitik of those who succeeded him. When the Berlin Wall came down, in November 1989, we again celebrated human rights, as Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union disappeared. We celebrated. We thought human rights had indeed arrived. It is the end of history. The promises of the French Revolution had now been fulfilled, and all the world would resound the words of freedom and individual rights.
But today we know that’s not the case. Where have we come from? Where are we and where are we going to go? That’s the question we are all asking ourselves. My crystal ball is a bit cloudy but let me suggest. The answer doesn’t lie simply with the youth. Youth are always activists, but let’s ask ourselves where have all the youth gone? For 70 years, in my country. Students in high school and college have been taught the importance of human rights but where are those people today? They’re in government and they’re doing nothing. Unfortunately, the use becomes middle-aged, we become older, and the lessons of youth become less important. It is not the youth that we have to turn to create a better world. It’s ourselves. Each of us, regardless of her age. We’ve missed opportunities. Just think of it.
What has happened there? The Iranian revolution. It didn’t have to go into Shia extremism. There was the thought that with the overthrow of the Shah, Iran would become a democracy, with Persian traditions coming to the forefront. But that revolution was co-opted by Shia extremism. And those in the Soviet Union today, Russia thought with Boris Yeltsin, there would have indeed been democracy and freedom in Russia. We have Vladimir Putin and autocracy: it didn’t have to be that way. We’ve missed opportunities. Think of Tahrir square, within the last decade. It didn’t have to produce General Sisi. It could have produced a liberal democracy. We missed the opportunity. All of us, along the way. Those opportunities will reoccur. It’s up to us to create liberal democracies.
Why liberal democracies? Because they are the only safeguard of human rights. They are the repository of the notion that the individual has the sanctity, even the sovereignty, that all rights that are not explicitly given to the governor, are reserved to the people. The people shall reign. When that becomes the dominant political philosophy throughout the world, human rights will be ensured. We look at the United Nations and we say where is the United Nations on human rights 75 years later? Let’s be honest with ourselves. What are the United Nations? It’s 193 countries. It isn’t the United Nations. The city on the hill is 193 countries. The majority of which are authoritarian. How can you expect the United Nations to uphold Human rights when the majority of its members do not hold human rights? If you want to change, we have to change. The countries that are members of the United Nations shall change their political systems. There is no shortcut. Otherwise, we will be here 25 years from now, lamenting the absence of human rights without governments that protect their citizens, that recognize the sanctity or even the sovereignty of individuals. Human rights will not be a mantra. Unfortunately, throughout history, going back to my home religious tradition, I was raised with the concept of freeing the imprisoned in Hebrew, as my friend from Darfur: it means to free those who are bound, that has been the cry for 2000 years or longer. It has to be our outcry; it has been more than our cry. It has to be our cause. We can’t look at the others. Don’t look at the United Nations. Don’t look at the youth: the Youth of my grandchildren and I wish them well. The responsibility lies not with them. It lies with us and with the countries we come from. Political systems in your country and in mine, as well, become truly functioning liberal democracies, we will have a better world and I’ll let you in on a non-political statement: the world cannot be safe for individuals, human rights will not be the mantra of the majority of the people in the world unless my country, the United States takes the lead. When it does, Human rights have been advanced. Today, that’s no longer the case. Last night in the Kenyan embassy, the representatives there, from some eight or ten missions, there was no one from the United States. So, it is to my own country that I must look to be the leader on behalf of free people everywhere. If the United States takes the lead, they respond when the Canadian Ambassador is expelled from Riyadh when they speak out for Mr. Khashoggi is murdered in Istanbul, when they speak out when your father, your brother, your sister, your loved ones are imprisoned, we can truly have in our lifetimes a better world. So, it is to my own country that I look, not the United Nations, but the United States of America to take its rightful place as the leader on behalf of human rights for citizens, individuals, everywhere.
Thank you so much.
12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, Monday, February 17, 2020