At a recent Universal Peace Federation consultation in Amman, I was made very aware that all the problems of the Middle East date back to the British interference. It was the same at a meeting in Dharamsala, at which the Dalai Lama was presiding – all the problems of the world seemed to date back to the Empire – so I said felt, as I was British, I had to apologise to everybody.

The British record on human rights is by no means perfect – but I think democracy, where opposition can be voiced, the rule of law can check the executive, and there is a free press certainly help (what else can say meeting here in the ‘Mother of Parliaments.’). Yet, I don’t think it is very useful to compare who has the best human rights record – but as the Qur’an says to challenge each other to compete in good works.

Jesus too said, ‘How dare you say to your brother, Please let me take the speck out of your eye, when you have a log in your own eye.’ There is much to criticise in the West’s human rights record – not least the use of drones and the involvement in the arms trade.

I also think it is important that people of different faiths act together to defend human rights of all people and not just of our own faith community. One of the first examples of inter-faith prayer in South Africa was in a prison cell. Some rabbis, clergy, imams, and swamis had joined in a peaceful protest against an apartheid regulation and were arrested. As they crowded together in the prison cell, one of them suggested ‘Why don’t we in turn offer a prayer.’

But I want to concentrate on the most basic right of all – the right to life and how we through the United Nations can be more effective at preventing genocide. Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria but for over two years the United Nations passed no resolution on the conflict in Syria.

At the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Ruanda, Kofi Annan said:

‘We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenceless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda 10 years ago.

Such crimes cannot be reversed.

Such failures cannot be repaired.

The dead cannot be brought back to life.

So what can we do?’

Kofi Annan continued:

‘First, we must all acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop the genocide…. No one can claim ignorance.

Rwanda was not the first failure.  Genocide Watch lists well over 50 Genocides and Politicides since 1945.[1]

At the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, Kofi Annan announced a Five Point Action Plan to Prevent Genocide:

1) preventing armed conflict which usually provides the context for genocide,

2) protection of civilians in armed conflict including a mandate for UN peacekeepers to protect


3) ending impunity through judicial action in both national and international courts,

4) information gathering and early warning through a UN Special Advisor for Genocide Prevention

making recommendations to the UN Security Council on actions to prevent or halt genocide,

5)  swift and decisive action along a continuum of steps, including military action. [2]

Some progress has been made in bringing those guilty of war crimes and genocide to justice: but the question of prevention remains urgent.

The crucial issue is reform of the veto. The threatened use of the veto by one of permanent members of the Security Council can prevent effective action. Various reforms have been suggested.

The Dalai Lama suggested that instead of the veto by powerful nations ‘every state should have power to veto measures, but the veto could be overruled by a two thirds majority of all members.’[3] Others have suggested that the five permanent members should agree not to deploy their veto in humanitarian crises. [4]

Other people are suggesting that a new international legal authority is needed to determine whether genocide is taking place and to authorise immediate action. [5] A Baha’i International Statement on Genocide said: ‘We believe that, at the present time, the most effective means of preventing and controlling genocide is through the establishment by the United Nations of a new international body dealing exclusively with genocide and charged with responsibility for considering allegations of genocide, carrying out investigations in connection with those allegations and taking urgent steps to put a stop to genocide wherever it is known to be taking place.’[6] The advantage of this is that UN procedure is slow and cumbersome, whereas immediate decisive action is required. The ‘escalatory ladder’ by which measures such as sanctions are gradually increased may be necessary to gain support for action, but ‘the logic of deterrence is that by threatening enough action at the front end, the most forcible measures may not actually be needed.’[7]

There is also an urgent need to clarify the legal position about the use of force and whether a UN Resolution is essential or whether an individual nation or some nations can act by themselves. The present ambiguity masks the disagreement among member states on this subject.

A further question is whether the membership of the Security Council and especially the influence of the 5 permanent members is unhealthy and excludes many nations from real decision making.

Moreover is the UN too tied to national governments. There is no mechanism for individual citizens to be heard at the UN or for those who oppose their own government to make their case. Modern communications should make possible far greater public interest and involvement The Dalai Lama suggested that the UN needs a ‘second chamber’, which would include artists, Nobel Peace Laureates, Physicians for Social Responsibility. Such a body would include religious leaders, and might be an expansion of Reverend Moon’s call for a Religious Council at UN.  Such a body having no link with national governments would carry moral authority, although no legal powers.[8]

Genocide is, of course, not the only threat to live – poverty which breeds disease and unfair trade policies which create poverty remind us how far we have to go to meet the Millennium goals.  But let me get a bit more basic. Did you celebrate World Toilet Day last Tuesday – did you know that one in three people on the planet do have access to a toilet. This is why the recent launch of WASH is so important. WASH stands for the Global Interfaith Alliance for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene which was launched at the UN in September. My friend Rabbi Soetendorp, one of the prime movers in this initiative says, ‘My brothers and sisters in faith communities all over the world, let us work together to make living water accessible to everyone. And may we continue to draw strength for each other.’

Together, with God’s help, may we ensure for all people the most basic right of all – the right to life.

[1] accessed 22.10.13

[2] Press Release  SG/SM/9197 AFR/893  HR/CN/1077  07/04/2004

[3] Ibid, p.202

[4] Intervention to Stop Genocide, New York, Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2007, pp. 22-3, referring to

Franck, Recourse to Force, p. 155-162; Lee Feinstein, Darfur and Beyond.

[5] Intervention to Stop Genocide, pp. 11-14 See also Kosovo Report, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000 and

George P Fletcher and Jens David Ohlin, Defending Humanity: When Force is Justified and Why, Oxford,

Oxford University Press, 2008

[6] www.Baha’i

[7] Intervention to Stop Genocide, p. 16

[8] Dalai Lama, , 1999, pp. 187-2004

Follow on Facebook Follow on X (Twitter) Follow on Vimeo Follow on Youtube Follow on Instagram Follow via Flickr Follow via RSS Follow on Linkedin
Cookies user preferences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics