Do Human Rights Matter? with Alfred Moses

Ambassador Alfred Moses, Chair of United Nations Watch, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On the battle for human rights in the world:

“It has always been a battle between freedom and oppression.”

“We had total oppression in much of the world. And then, fast forward, World War II, the triumph of the allies, and the rebirth of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.”

“Just 30 years later we have our heads down and we’re saying, we’re battling, but much of the world is not with us. But the fact is, that has always been true.”

“You have to shine the light and stand strong no matter how difficult it may be.”

On the UN Human Rights Council:

“The United Nations, the Human Rights Council has become a pact of convenience to condone evil.”

“The essential freedom is freedom of speech. If you have freedom of speech all the rest will follow. Why don’t we hold the members of the Human Rights Council to a standard of upholding freedom of speech—the most sacred of all of the freedoms?”

Full Remarks

Good afternoon,

I’m Alfred Moses, the chair of UN Watch and I’m here to accept UN Watch’s Award as the bravest person in the room. I accepted an invitation to speak immediately after lunch, which is something no one should ever do, but you should rest secure, you can see me but I can’t see you. So enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

We’re here to talk about human rights and democracy. You have heard from James Kirchik, Michael Levitt, Hillel Neuer, and other greats that we’re now in a depression. Human rights are on the wane, they are longer in ascendancy. But that has always been true in the sense that it has always been a battle between freedom and oppression.  It’s gone on as long as we’ve been on planet Earth. 

We know from Hebrew Scripture about the Jubilee – the fiftieth year when everyone goes free. We know from the Christian Bible about Christ’s preaching of love, brotherly love. We know about the glory days of Athens of Aristotle and Plato and Socrates and then we know the dark period that followed through the Middle Ages. There was light but there was more darkness than light. 

Then in the 17th and 18th centuries persons espousing freedom came to the forefront, the philosophers, the great philosophers of England, the Netherlands, France. Diderot, Spinoza, Locke, and Hume excited the world to the point that we had the French Revolution and the American Revolution and we thought that it was the end of history ,or so Mr. Hegel wrote: “it was the synthesis, it was the culmination of all human aspiration”. But it was followed by the Congress of Vienna and oppression. A search for freedom in 1848 and then suppressed.

I’m almost old enough – my father was: he fought in the First World War in the United States Army- to remember World War One. It was to make the world safe for democracy, what happened? We had the League of Nations. We had Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin. We had total oppression in much of the world. 

Fast-forward, World War Two the triumph of the Allies, the United States, Great Britain, and Russia and the rebirth of human rights with the Universal Declaration in 1948. We heard about René Cassin, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Greats of 1948-1949. Human rights were well in the ascendancy and then half of the world fell under communist oppression. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and we again celebrated freedom and democracy and these halls rang with those words. We had been triumphant, now it’s the day but just 30 years later we have our heads down and we’re saying we’re battling but much the world is not with us.

The fact is that has always been true and the important thing is to keep the battle. You have to be the Spinozas, the Humes, the Lockes of our day. You have to shine the light and stand strong however difficult it may be. These are not easy times. We may say to each other what can we do – after all, the world is not resounding with trumpet blasts of freedom.

Let’s think about it, Muslims in Myanmar, the Rohingya, Muslims in China, the Uyghurs, have been fiercely set upon, exiled from their homes, their lives destroyed, and the Muslim world has said almost nothing about it. Almost nothing. We have people being subjected to inhumane treatment in Zimbabwe, in Burundi, in Mozambique, and the Congress of African nations says almost nothing. We have Europeans being imprisoned in Iran, in Syria, by ISIS, by the Ayatollah in Iran and we get barely a murmur from the Western world –  from the very countries whose citizens have been put in jail. We have a dissident shot on a bridge in Moscow, shot on a bridge in Moscow, and persons poisoned in the United Kingdom and there’s barely a murmur. 

My own country is not blameless. Canada is a shining example which all the nations – all 80-some nations that are members of the United Nations – were the champions of freedom and democracy, as Canada has been but it’s not true. My president returned from Saudi Arabia, not with Raif Badawi but with contracts to sell military equipment and supplies to Saudi Arabia. That was his great triumph. The greater triumph would have been to return with Raif Badawi. 

And so it is in North Korea, where the son, a good friend of ours, was killed in effect. He was rendered unconscious. The President of the United States said he’d prefer to believe the leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un than military intelligence in the United States, civilian intelligence the United States. He preferred to believe the third generation of a family business, a family business that’s engaged in oppression of the very worst kind. He preferred to believe him rather than the parents of the young man who died or US intelligence. 

We don’t have people standing up and speaking today for human rights as they should and as they must. Canada, yes, much of the rest of the world, no.

So what is it that we can do and what should we do and where do we look? The United Nations Human Rights Council has become a pack of convenience to condone evil. A pack of convenience to condone evil. Where in the Human Rights Council do we get the resolutions condemning the actions that are taking place throughout the world that make desecration of the hallowed words of the Universal Declaration. They’re not forthcoming. They’re not forthcoming from the United Nations Human Rights Council where there is a pack of convenience condoning evil.

Why don’t we have the pictures of the persons outside, the correspondents, the writers who have been killed? That exhibition should be on the walls outside of the United Nations Human Rights Council. That’s where it belongs and we gotta have a list – a list of shame, a list that names all the persons in prison because they’ve been denied their basic human rights, and then a list of persons who have been released. An honor roll and a shame list. Let’s get that before the Human Rights Council and judge countries on what they actually do. When they have the annual reviews, the periodic reviews, let it not be a whitewash. Let’s hold people by the highest standard, which is freedom of speech. 

I think Mr. Kirchik said it earlier today of the four basic freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom of religion. The essential freedom is freedom of speech. If you have freedom of speech, all the rest will follow. Why don’t we hold the countries that are members of the United Nations Human Rights Council to a standard of upholding freedom of speech, the most sacred of all the freedoms? And then that honors those persons who have come out of prisons and point the finger of shame at those who are still holding prisoners, people in jail because they’ve sought to exercise their freedom of speech. Those are the things we can do and must do and should do and let’s not exonerate ourselves.

It is wonderful to come to Geneva. It’s sunny, we see friends, we rejoice in the words we hear, but the words don’t make any difference. It’s the action that counts. Coming to Geneva, receiving honors, and sitting and playing with your cell phone and computers doesn’t help anybody.

Let’s take it upon ourselves to say what we’re gonna do today and tomorrow to relieve the oppressed, to free those who are the victims of injustice, and in the end to remember that we’ll be judged not by any earthly tribunal, not with these Human Rights tribunals of this world, not even by the heavenly Court, but in the end, we have to all answer to ourselves and say what did I do today to advance human rights, to free those who are oppressed, to get persons out of jail who would otherwise be languishing there, to help humankind in all of its parts, then we can say we were part of the great triumphs that took place in our lifetimes because of what we did, not simply what we said.

 And with that I thank you.

12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, March 25, 2019

Speakers and Participants

Alfred Moses

Chair of UN Watch, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Special Presidential Envoy for the Cyprus Conflict, Special Counsel to President Jimmy Carter


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