103. Statement by the Representative to the United Nations (Young)1

The world-awakening to human rights and fundamental freedoms that emerged in 1948 in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has taken on a new urgency in the past few years. For perhaps the first time in history we can truly say that there is a worldwide human rights movement, and it is steadily gaining force.

Mahatma Gandhi in 1921 wrote that every good movement passes through five stages: indifference, ridicule, abuse, repression, and, finally, respect. We know that human rights abuses are usually, when first noted, regarded with indifference. Then will come the ridicule, then the abuse, and perhaps even the repression. This is the path of progress. It has been true in the United States, India, across the African [Page 500] Continent. It is no less true in the East or Middle East than it has been in the West and South. It is part of the process of widening participation in the public dialogue, of expanding the concerns and concepts we use when we develop public and international policy.

There is no room for self-righteousness and self-congratulation in the field of human rights. Each of our nations has people of vision and people of fear, those who create and those who repress and torture. I believe we should identify particular problems and work together toward solving them. It is better to solve one small problem than to engage in political fireworks about the grand issues of our time. We have the potential of a new pragmatism in these halls, and I hope it grows.

Behind this new pragmatism is, I think, the growing realization that we, indeed, have common goals and that if we stop fearing and fighting each other we might find some practical solutions. The task is too serious to waste our effort in nonproductive exercises. We are faced with the necessity of promoting worldwide rapid, peaceful social change if we are to move toward the goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 1967, a few months before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reflected on the next steps of the struggle for full human rights and came to the conclusion that the crisis of the modern world is international in scope and that this is a crisis that “involves the poor, the dispossessed, and the exploited of the whole world.”2

Today, more than 1 billion people live in conditions of abject poverty—starving, idle, and numbed by ignorance. Life expectancy in the poorest countries is only slightly greater than half that in the industrialized countries.

The sad fact is that most of the people in these countries who were born in the year we adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not around anymore to celebrate this occasion. And most of those who are still here have very little to celebrate. Three quarters of their number in these countries do not have access to safe water. They cannot read the speeches we make today honoring human rights. They earn less money in a year than most of us in this hall of the United Nations earn in 1 day—and even that is only a figure of speech, since most of them have never been paid at all for their work.

The birthright of these people has been disregarded, denied, and violated, although it was done not by torturers, not by jailers, not by persecution, and not by repressive government. As President Carter re[Page 501]minded us a week ago: “Hunger, disease, poverty are enemies of human potential which are as relentless as any repressive government.”3

The freedoms from arbitrariness, torture, and cruel punishment are the rights of everyone by the simple fact that he or she is born. The freedom of thought, speech, religion, press, and participation in public affairs are so fundamental that they enhance the quality of our life and character as individuals. Their exercise cannot be made dependent on any other considerations. But we must understand too that these rights are hollow for any individual who starves to death. Therefore, the human rights struggle is not only a defense of our individual liberty but also a struggle to protect life.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a call for worldwide movements to promote human rights. This call is often heard with alarm by many who believe that there is far more to lose than to gain by encouraging political, economic, and social change. Perhaps, in the short run, there is some cost for those who have special privilege or for those who have an investment in thinking of themselves—as a nation or class or race—as superior or more advanced than others. But the plain lesson of history is that as the circle of participation in society widens, almost everyone profits. They profit not just in a better standard of living for everyone but in the productivity of the economy, in better social services for everyone, in wider political participation, and in more freedom and more protection for human rights.

The process of change entails risks. But change is inevitable. It is not a question of being able to withstand change or even of directing it; it is a question of understanding change and cooperating with it. The change of our time, the basic dynamic of our time, leads to more participation by more people in society. Poverty is the basic obstacle to the realization of human rights for most people in the world today. Where poverty is the problem, participation is the answer, participation in the economic life of the society. Economic growth must be pursued with equity in mind and not just for the profit of the few at the top or for the power of the state and the government. The ultimate goal of economic development must be equity, with broader participation in production and consumption by all as the main objective. Speaking before the opening session of the 8th General Assembly of the Organization of American States [June 21, 1978], President Carter said: “The challenge [Page 502] of economic development is to help the world’s poor lift themselves out of misery.”4

He called upon that Assembly to join together the concepts of economic development and social justice: “We must also devote our common energies to economic development and the cause of social justice. Benefits of the world’s economy must be more fairly shared, but the responsibilities must be shared as well.”

To share responsibility is to make more participation possible. The more participation, the wiser will be the government. Prime Minister Manley made a stirring affirmation of his own faith in democracy when he spoke to us in October. He was, you will recall, urging us to united efforts in the struggle against apartheid. He said: “We believe that any government which has the courage to mobilize its people and tell the truth will receive the overwhelming support of its citizens.” I also believe that. We must let our people hear the truth, the whole truth. And we must not be afraid to mobilize our citizens to participate more fully in the political and economic processes.

Expanding participation should not be limited, however, to government initiative. There is an important role for nongovernmental organizations. For the last year the Government of India has been reminding us of the importance of autonomous—and I stress that word—autonomous national human rights institutions.

We need not fear change if we build into it more equity and more participation. Indeed, fear of social change is the thing we need to fear the most. If we are afraid of it and try to preserve that which is already eroding beneath our feet, we will fail, because the dynamic of history is to widen the circle of those who participate in society. Whether the struggle is for medical care for those who do not have it, bread for those who are hungry, freedom from prison for those imprisoned for conscience’s sake, freedom of the press to print dissenting opinions, a job for those who are unemployed, the right to self-determination of majorities oppressed by minorities, the right of workers to organize, the right to speak one’s own language in one’s own school—all of these are demands for more participation and more dignity.

If we invest just half as much energy and imagination in building a world community of the people as we have wasted in resisting the aspirations of the people, we will overcome.

I believe that we are at the end of the period of cold wars, in the middle of the era of detente, and just beginning to find ways to build the structures of cooperation. Cooperation will demand a different sub[Page 503]stance and different style than confrontation. It will take a while for us to learn how to change, and I am afraid that we will all carry with us for some years some of the characteristics of confrontational politics. But it is more rewarding for everyone, even if it is more difficult and demanding, to practice the art of building community and cooperation for the common good. I believe we can get just as excited about building something as we can about protecting something. I believe that cooperation for the common good of humankind can be as powerful an incentive to our imaginations as fear for our survival. Indeed, I submit that cooperation for the common good, for the protection and promotion of human rights, is the way to survival.

Perhaps some neglected methods can be of great help to us in the struggle to promote and protect human rights.

First, an emphasis on autonomous, national institutions. We have not given due credit, nor due attention, to the creative role of independent, private institutions, dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights. My own experience was with the civil rights movement and the churches of this country, and I know what they were able to do in a few short years. Also, the role of a free and responsible press needs to be recognized. The press can be a guardian of the public interest and a critic of the abuses—where they exist—of public power, and of private power, for that matter.

A second way to promote human rights is the use of the United Nations and of government authority and influence as a catalyst and agent of goodwill in stimulating a process of participation by those who have common interests and concerns. The United Nations and interested nations are doing this in the case of Zimbabwe and Namibia, where the effort is not to impose a solution but to facilitate the building of communication among all the parties which are concerned, so that by talking to one another they learn to formulate their own solutions to their own problems.

This is what the United States has been trying to do in the Middle East; acting not as a judge between Egypt and Israel but as a mediator, trying to be a catalyst in a process of ever-expanding conversation and cooperation. This is what the United States, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala are trying to do in Nicaragua; not the imposition of an external answer but the strengthening of the process of consultation among all parties involved so they can find their own answers.5

I believe we can be even more active in this way than we have been at the United Nations. It is not enough to halt conflicts and to provide buffer or peacekeeping forces. It is not enough to denounce problems [Page 504] or supposed culprits. We must find a positive, creative role, of being the catalyst of change, of promoting the process of wider participation where there are conflicts so that all the parties are involved.

In the struggle to make all people free, we ourselves must become free. Freedom is not some distant state of affairs when there will be no more problems and history will have arrived at some utopia, some paradise, some order of perfect justice. Freedom is solidarity with those who are less free than we are. Freedom is taking the risk of working for social justice for all people.

The United Nations was brought forth as a result of the struggle for freedom against tyranny. There are many forms of tyranny, and none of us are exempt from the temptation to conspire with tyranny against freedom by remaining indifferent to the struggle of others to be free. But our very humanity rests in our capacity to identify with the other and to join in the struggle to make all persons free.

The United Nations is now challenged to take the next steps that can move us forward in the struggle of humankind for peace, justice, and freedom. If we accept this challenge, I believe we will all be free someday.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, February 1979, pp. 59–60. All brackets are in the original. Young made the statement in plenary.
  2. King delivered these remarks as part of five lectures he delivered for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in November and December 1967.
  3. Made at a ceremony on Dec. 6, 1978, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration (for full text, see BULLETIN of Jan. 1979, p. 1) [Footnote in the original. The President’s address is printed as Document 101.]
  4. The President’s remarks are printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book I, pp. 1141–1146.
  5. Reference is to the ongoing tripartite mediation efforts in Nicaragua.