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On the UN General Assembly’s Historic Vote for LGBT Rights

History was made at the United Nations yesterday when 60 countries signed onto a General Assembly declaration in support of the decriminalization of homosexuality. France--which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union--spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This latter group issued its own statement claiming the declaration would ease restrictions against pedophilia. The United States couched its opposition in legal technicalities. "We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically," said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy U.S. ambassador. "But the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don't have jurisdiction." Despite the opposition, this was a pretty significant event for the United Nations--and for the world. A resolution like this is non-binding, meaning that it does not have the force of law anywhere. But in the long run these kinds of resolutions do help to foster the genesis of new legal norms and new human rights.
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Why Defending Bad Guys in Court is a Good Thing

Kevin Jon Heller of Opinio Juris outs himself as a legal adviser to indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. There is a lot of mutual admiration between the writers of UN Dispatch and Opinio Juris, a blog about international law written by scholars/practitioners. Kevin Jon Heller is the anchor of Opinio Juris and over the years, Kevin has provided the invaluable service of translating complicated issues of international law into digestible blog posts for laymen like myself. So, with all that in mind, let me say that I unequivocally support Kevin's decision to defend Karadzic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Every person, no matter how odious (and Karadzic is as bad as they get) deserves the best available legal representation. This is a fundamental human right. Period. Personally, I am glad that someone as sharp as Kevin is defending Karadzic. In 2003, I was an intern for the team of prosecutors prosecuting Slobodan Milosevic for his alleged war crimes in Bosnia. I saw, first hand, how Milosevic's lack of a coherent defense undermined the whole process of his trial. Karadzic, who is accused of genocide, is apparently accepting legal representation. This is a good thing. We want the case decided on the facts. I think the facts will show that Karadzic bears responsibility for war crimes in Bosnia, and that these crimes amounted to genocide. With someone like Kevin Jon Heller on his side, we can be assured that Karadzic mounted a serious defense. In the end this helps uphold the legitimacy of the tribunal, and in so doing serves the cause of international justice. I don't want to wish Kevin good luck, but I am glad that he has taken the case. UPDATE:Kevin responds in the comment section. "I deeply appreciate Mark's thoughts. I just want to clarify that Dr. Karadzic is representing himself, as is his right -- for now -- under the rules of the tribunal. My colleague Peter Robinson is his formally-designated legal associate, and I am serving as his legal adviser."
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What Image Has Opened Your Eyes to Human Rights?

Witness is an international non-profit organization that uses video and online technologies to shine a light on human rights abuses around the world. For the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, Witness staff discuss some of the videos and images that have touched them over the past few years. At the end of the video, viewers are asked what image has opened our eyes to human rights. For me, this picture is one of the most enduring symbols of how the demand for human rights can inspire extraordinary courage in ordinary people.
What images most symbolize human rights to you? Send an email to undispatch AT and we will update this post with your response. Please indicate if you would like to keep your response anonymous. UPDATE: See some reader responses below the fold.
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Happy 60th Anniversary, Human Rights!

Sure, they existed before 1948, but it was only then that they were codified into the remarkable document known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This cool video from Amnesty International gives a fun tour through some of the Declaration's stunning 30 articles of the freedoms, rights, and liberties that every human being possesses.
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Fighting the Good Fight Against Racism

Two recent opinion pieces take aim squarely at what looms as an early decision for President Barack Obama -- the Durban Review Conference, a successor to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. The purpose of the upcoming conference, as Claudia Rosett -- no fan of the United Nations by any stretch -- notes rather dismissively in her Forbes column:
As in 2001, the U.N. pretext is to end racism. Or, in U.N. lingo--take a deep breath -- the aim is "the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance."
The thing is, this is not a "pretext," nor is it a program of "the U.N." cum organization. Though it is widely reported a "a U.N. event," the Conference is in fact a gathering of countries from around the world, all of which, yes, are UN Member States, and each of which, yes, have their own sub-agendas within the broad goal of combating racism and intolerance. Rosett then makes the rather obvious point that -- no surprise here -- there are a number of "bad actors" on the international stage. These voices -- including some countries, but, as in 2001, even more NGOs, whose outbursts in a side conference should be more proscribed this time around -- who will likely seek to twist the conference's laudable purpose toward certain individual complaints and unacceptable digressions, including, as the standard arguments against the conference are right to denounce, some inexcusable anti-Semitic statements. Unfortunately, plugging our ears to this kind of dreck neither makes it any less likely to occur, nor deprives it of a forum. The only way to counter speech we don't like, as the constitutional adage goes, is with more speech.