Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Uses of Snowden: The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

When Ed Snowden, our pissy and so self-righteous Defender of the Faith and of All Truth, who Sees the Higher Path and knows What is Right when none of his thousands of colleagues do, who knows what MUST be done to save America when all around him everyone else is Corrupted by Mammon or one of the other Seven Princes of Hell, when this icon of moral and ethical perfection had his passport pulled by the State Department (surprise!!) he complained that the USA was violating a clause of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inhibiting his right to travel internationally and to seek asylum.

Now that is interesting, I thought to myself. One more time, Snowden may have brought to our attention some topic of merit that is, apparently, separate from the national security ones on which his reputation ultimately depends.

What is the "UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights" anyway, where did it come from, and what does it all mean?

It was written right after WW II and at the very dawn of the United Nations.  The head of the committee that wrote it was none other than Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the United States.  You can read all about it at the link I provide below.   The key to understanding this Declaration is to understand, somehow, that WW II was much worse than you think it was and that people, some people at least, were idealistic about a new beginning when the war ended.  And so, this international committee of idealists and intellectuals put together a short list of things that "would be nice".

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could be educated?  Yes.  Wouldn't it be nice if there could be freedom of religion?  Sure.   Wouldn't it be nice if people could express their beliefs freely, and travel wherever they wanted, and made a living that allowed them to realize their potential and not be thrown in jail without due cause?  Absolutely!  And so forth, and so on.  

Here is what it says:
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
My goodness, that is nice.  Constantly in mind!  Shall Strive by Teaching!  Progressive Measures!

Forgive me for being a little cynical here but we are talking about 1948 or so: Stalin is wiping out entire minority groups, people are being thrown out of windows in Czechoslovakia, Mao is demonstrating what he meant by "all power comes out of the barrel of a gun", the colonial empires of various western empires are meeting the post-WW 2 anti-colonial movements of S.E. Asia and Africa, and these fluffy liberals are making Universal Declarations of Human Rights.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is about 2.5 typewritten pages long, and is very easy to read. It is at:

Now that you have read it, ask yourself how many of these have been violated by this country, the United States of America, in letter or in spirit, at least occasionally?

Just off the top of my head I can make arguments that we are or have been in violation of Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11.1, 12, 13.1 and 13.2, 14.1, 15.2, 16.1, 17.2, 21.1, 21.2 and 21.3, 23.1, 23.2, 23.3 and 23.4, 25.1, 26.1, 26.3 and I can make a case for a few of the others as well.

I doubt that there is a country on earth that could live up to these standards if they are interpreted as they are probably meant to be interpreted. So what is this anyway? Is it treaty? Is it law? Is it international law? It is none of these things.  In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights, when the declaration was being drafted and when it was introduced to the General Assembly to be adopted:
In giving our approval to the declaration today, it is of primary importance that we keep clearly in mind the basic character of the document. It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms, to be stamped with the approval of the General Assembly by formal vote of its members, and to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.
In fact, the impact of the Declaration and its legal status many years later makes more interesting reading than the declaration itself. Its a complicated tangle but it can be said that the Declaration has in fact had some influence, presumably positive influence, in many situations internationally over the years. Whether this influence has affected peoples' lives or whether it is in words and paper only, I couldn't tell you.

But I can tell you, that no country on this planet would believe that this Declaration prevented them from trying to bring into custody someone they considered a criminal, and that therefore Snowden accusing the US of being in violation of this Declaration is somewhere between naive and comical.

Which is how I think history will judge Snowden overall.

Naive, very naive.


  1. If Snowden is naive then what we desperately need in this country are more naive people.

  2. Audri ... my guess based on the evidence to date is that Snowden is a self-righteous narcissist with delusions of grandeur who does not know what he is talking about and was acting in both good and bad faith. And that he has become a poster child for the paranoid left. However, more will be revealed as time goes by. In the meantime, I think he has brought up several useful areas of discussion and I think we can all benefit by discussing them. I doubt, sincerely doubt, if most americans will now or ever learn the first 1% of what they need to know to adequately judge what the intelligence community does.

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