One of the great achievements of the twentieth century was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration affirms in its preamble that it is intended to serve as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” It states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
While these standards have not yet been universally attained, nevertheless, the very declaration itself affords standards by which nations may examine their own governments and strive for progress. The world community may, similarly, engage in dialogue looking toward the universal implementation of these standards. A future world judiciary may be guided by such standards in resolving international disputes and in redressing the grievances of oppressed groups and individuals.
About 80 years prior to the Universal Declaration, Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, taught that an “equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted. In the estimation of God all men are equal; there is no distinction or preferment for any soul.”
While confined as a religious prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, Bahá’u’lláh addressed a series of letters to world leaders of his day. He wrote for example, “Be vigilant, that ye may not do injustice to anyone.” In a letter to Queen Victoria, he praised her for having “forbidden trading in slaves, both men and women” and for having “entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people.”
To resolve the divisions rampant in the world, Baha’u’llah called for a new level of human maturity and vision. “Let you vision be world embracing,” he wrote. All people should begin to see themselves as citizens of the world and should work to achieve a new level of unity and peace.
Baha’u’llah’s son, Abdu’l-Baha, traveled to the West from 1911-1913. While in the United States he spoke frequently on the topic of human rights. “The wrong in the world continues to exist,” he stated, “because people talk only of their ideals…. My hope for you is that you will ever avoid tyranny and oppression; that you will work without ceasing till justice reigns in every land.”
While speaking with a U.S. official in Washington, D.C., Abdu’l-Baha said, “You can best serve your country if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principles of federalism underlying the government of your country to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world.”
In order for justice to reign in every land we must have the means to do so. Currently, when human rights violations arise within or between nations, the international community is incapable of addressing them.
As Abdu’l-Baha suggested, a federal system of international government is needed. The Baha’i writings offer this: “True civilization will unfurl its banner … whenever a certain number of its distinguished and high-minded sovereigns … make the Cause of Peace the object of general consultation, and seek by every means in their power to establish a Union of the nations of the world. They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant…. In this all-embracing Pact the limits and frontiers of each and every nation should be clearly fixed, the principles underlying the relations of governments towards one another definitely laid down, and all international agreements and obligations ascertained. In like manner, the size of the armaments of every government should be strictly limited, for if the preparations for war and the military forces of any nation should be allowed to increase, they will arouse the suspicion of others.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should and can become a standard for the whole world. The means to do so, however, must be established. Let us work together — with world embracing vision — to build a world where injustice, oppression and persecution is addressed as it should be.
David Crenshaw is a member of the Baha’i Faith. He lives in Eureka. The opinions shared above are his own. For information about the Baha’i Faith see Bahai.org