66 years ago today, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the UN Human Rights Commission that drafted the charter. This iconic image was snapped that day:
“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere,” she said at the time.
That was December 10, 1948. On December 9, 2014, the United States Senate released a report detailing horrific abuses, including the torture and rape of detainees in CIA custody.
The declaration of human rights, Article 5:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
At least five detainees were subjected to “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration,” without any documented medical need. “While IV infusion is safe and effective,” one officer wrote, rectal hydration could be used as a form of behavior control.
To say this is a setback for human rights is an understatement: the government of the country most responsible for ushering in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights six decades ago has apparently approved the torture of individuals. But the USA contains multitudes. The government of that same country (albeit a different branch) released this report exposing these gruesome violations of human rights. The expectation now is that something comes of it in terms of institutional reform and criminal accountability for torturers and their enablers.
From a UN perspective, we can expect various human rights bodies to condemn the report and call for justice and accountability for the crimes that are alleged. Special Envoys from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are probably where we will first see condemnatory words in the next day or two. When Ban Ki Moon gives his end-of-year press conference later this month, we can expect him to be asked about the report and call for justice and accountability. This is absolutely appropriate. The human rights violations detailed in this report are egregious. If it happened anywhere around the world, we would expect the UN to condemn the violations. That these violations occurred at the behest of the government of the United States which championed the declaration of human rights 66 year ago today is a deeper shame.