Speaking to Our Common Humanity...60 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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Vol. XLV No. 2 & 3 2008

Since 2007, global food and energy prices have been increasing steeply, hitting economies reliant on energy and food imports with great force like a "silent tsunami". Rising food costs have led to social unrest in some 30 countries. Food and energy security is more closely connected with political stability than ever before. How to balance food security and energy needs is becoming a burning topic in the international community.

A host of world leaders met at UN Headquarters in New York on 12 and 13 November 2008 for an inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue on a "Culture of Peace", at the initiative of King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia.

Concerned over the security of women and girls in situations of armed conflict, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that rape was a crime that could never be condoned; yet, women and girls around the world had been subjected to widespread and deliberate acts of sexual violence.

Handbook is something of a misnomer for a work of this genre.The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations contents and informed analysis are on a scale that makes it invaluable to hand for learned reference. But a handbook, as such, it is not.

Over the last two decades, there has been rapid advancement in the development and application of modern biotechnology -- a technology that involves taking genetic material from one organism and inserting it into another to give it a desired characteristic. This new technology is complex and arouses much debate.

Mexico is the original source of maize and home to a wide biodiversity. Maize has always been the main staple food of Mexicans and the principal crop cultivated by its farmers for millennia. In the twentieth century, Mexico's economic growth centred around towns and cities. In the first half of the twentieth century, maize was central to a food policy motivated by the goal of self-sufficiency. Agriculture flourished because of the Green Revolution.

We sometimes talk about hunger in the world as if it were a scourge that all of us want to see abolished, viewing it as comparable with the plague or aids. But that naïve view prevents us from coming to grips with what causes and sustains hunger. Hunger has great positive value to many people. Indeed, it is fundamental to the working of the world's economy. Hungry people are the most productive people, especially where there is a need for manual labour.

On 30 October 2008, six eminent economists and sociologists at an Interactive Panel on the Global Financial Crisis, convened at UN Headquarters by the President of the sixty-third General Assembly session, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, spoke of the unfolding financial crisis and its macroeconomic and social impacts.

In India, the problems of chronic hunger and malnutrition persist on a massive scale. The prevalence of malnutrition is one of the highest in the world, higher than in some very poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2007 Progress for Children Statistical Review by the United Nations Children's Fund, the proportion of underweight children below the age of five -- an indication of malnutrition -- was 28 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 42 per cent in South Asia (43 per cent in India).

Coinciding with the sixty-third anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter, an engaging and educative panel discussion on genocide prevention, with its theme titled "Saving Succeeding Generations", was held on 26 June 2008 at UN Headquarters, in collaboration with the Outreach Division of the UN Department of Public Information and the United Nations University.

More than half of the world's 6 billion people eat rice as their staple food. Global rice prices have been rising since early 2003. Moderate increases of 9 per cent in 2006 and 17 per cent in 2007 were recorded, but since the beginning of 2008 international rice prices have shown a steep upward trend, reflecting a limited supply available for purchase.

After 27 years of international amnesia over bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice, and following six years of intense negotiations between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge tribunal, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), was established in 2006. The tribunal is a UN-assisted national court, with international participation of prosecutors and judges.

Food security has always been at the top of my agenda. Upon taking office, my government launched a major domestic programme aimed at eliminating -- not just alleviating -- hunger at home. In 2003, the pioneering Zero Hunger programme has allowed millions of extremely poor Brazilians to have three square meals a day. Its success has encouraged me to believe that similar goals can be achieved at the global level, where millions fall victim to hunger every year.

On 10 December 2008, the United Nations led worldwide celebrations to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Six decades ago, the international community affirmed that the strength of shared ideas and a common vision of respectful and peaceful coexistence could prevail over brutality, hatred and destruction.

The world is experiencing a dramatic rise in food prices. It began gradually in 2006 and has now escalated into a massive surge. It has caused hunger, protests, riots and even fears for international security. Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries have been hardest hit but the problem is global. Reports of the impact of dearer food on the poor in many developing countries have led to calls for international action to reverse the slide towards increasing poverty and malnutrition.

During the past two decades, population growth, improvement in incomes and diversification of diets have steadily increased the demand for food. Prior to 2000, food prices were in decline, largely through record harvests. At the same time, however, public and private investment in agriculture, especially in the production of staple food, decreased, which led to stagnant or declining crop yields in most developing countries.

Africa. This one word is sufficient to evoke images of a doomed people. Africa's population is largely ill-insured against external shocks brought about by natural disasters, adverse climate, war and conflict. It is here too that the ravages of the AIDS pandemic have been most felt. Indeed, the region is plagued by many problems which hurt its ability to ensure food and nutrition security for its people.

Human rights are rights claimed against the State and society by virtue of being a human being. However, the human rights of most people have been continuously violated all around the world. Since all civilizations have been patriarchal, regardless of the overall human rights conditions maintained in a society, women have been subject to more human rights violations than men.