World awareness sparks solutions

The world is like a baby. It cries when it’s hungry. A good mother and father will feed their baby when it’s hungry. And a baby cries when it hurts. I’d like to think all able Americans have a bit of the doctor in them; when someone is hurting, we want to help ease the pain. Maybe a little bit of a cop, too; when a fight breaks out, we want to stop it. This is good ethics. And what we do in our own homes is what we ought to do in the world.
Pick a problem, any problem. How ’bout world hunger? How much will it cost to clean up Honduras?
Imagine a consortium of the richest people in the world, all sitting around a very large roundtable, trying to decide on a world problem to solve. Everybody has their checkbooks out. A partial list of who will be there: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates … well, you get the gist. Take 50 of the top celebrities, 50 of the top CEOs, 50 of the top this and 50 of the top that. Throw in a couple high rollers out of Vegas.
These are very wealthy people. And it is possible that if such a summit were arranged, problems would get solved. But such a summit is a fantasy. The real influence and change starts with awareness by regular people who care.
I’m proud to be an American, not just because of our military might or abundance of wealth, and not even because of hard-won freedom and democracy. I’m proud because of our leadership and our sense of ethics. But for all our leadership and good will, the same social issues persist and, in many instances, are getting worse.
We face many global challenges. Sustainability is the catchword for the next millennium. Pollution crosses all boundaries. Global warming threatens the entire planet. Diseases are spreading. AIDS and cancer are epidemics. Population estimates are for more than 8 billion by 2025. Currently, 800 million, many of them children, are starving. But even when we are not directly affected by foreign calamities and catastrophes, it is our ethics and our leadership that drives us to respond, yet we are not responding enough.
I’d like to believe that Americans can move past the old complaints of spending too much on helping our foreign neighbors and forget about pathetic public service announcements begging for meager contributions. I believe most Americans try to be aware of a world in crisis. For those who aren’t, being aware doesn’t hurt. Being responsible is not a burden. Caring is a secret to happiness.
Think big for a moment: International Red Cross, NATO, IMF, the United Nations, Amnesty International, the World Bank, the Earth Council, the World Food Summit, the Geneva Convention, the Vienna Peace Accords, the World Court, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the Overseas Development Institute and hundreds more.
Combine all these organizations and you truly have a vast network of networks, dedicated to finding solutions to world problems. But if these organizations are to be held accountable to their mission statements, it is up to the public — regular people — to ensure that they do.
On its Web page, OneWorld Online claims to be the most popular human and environmental rights site on the Web. It’s a plethora of international rights organizations, think tanks, research institutes and more, joining forces to do what they can’t do alone.
But for all the combined power and influence of these think tanks and institutes, the problems they are trying to solve, separately and together, still persist and are getting worse.
So what’s going on? Why aren’t world problems getting solved?
Infighting? The Family Research Council regularly attacks the United Nations for failure to address human rights issues. Amnesty International attacks the U.S. government for failure to force China to comply with human rights abuses before trade takes place.
Apathy and greed? College students bitch about tuition rates while Honduras drowns beneath a sea of mud. Suburbia whines when their local video store runs out of copies of the latest blockbuster on a Friday night.
According to a variety of sources, the United States has spent $1 trillion in foreign aid since WWII, starting with the Marshall Plan. The United Nations declares that close to 70 countries are hungrier today than they were about 20 years ago. Over the last 30 years, the United States has spent $6 trillion fighting domestic poverty, which remains basically unchanged.
How effective is the United Nations? This year is the 50th anniversary of the United Nation’s Declaration on Human Rights. The United Nations has negotiated, since its inception in 1948, close to 60 human rights treaties and declarations. Its two major agreements are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Bill of Rights. Recently, the United Nations created the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. To what degree these agreements are legally binding is a test of time.
The U.N. Charter — an international treaty enforced by the U.N. Security Council negotiates the settling of disputes by peaceful means. Meanwhile, the United States stands on the verge of declaring war on Iraq without full U.N. approval. This is not leadership. This is arrogance.
The United Nations — like Amnesty International and OneWorld Online — gathers facts, investigates prisons, meets with victims, writes hoards of press releases and papers, speaks with government officials, files reports, assesses the need for aid, provides technical assistance and training, supports democracy, drafts legislation and advises on legal matters.
Under the U.N. umbrella, there are six committees that monitor international compliance. Expanding further, there is the U.N. Children’s Fund, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the International Labour Organization, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the U.N. Development Programme, the World Health Organization and the International Court of Justice (World Court). Not yet created but envisioned is the International Criminal Court — one way to handle the border dilemma with former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
What a picture. What a vast consortium of world leaders, concerned about abortion, over-population, drug abuse, domestic abuse, health care, education, poverty, disease, the environment, genocide, refugees, cruel and inhuman punishment, the rights of children, the rights of migrant workers, the rights of women and the rights of prisoners.
What are these institutions doing that commerce isn’t? Where is the meeting ground? And where do you stand on the issues? Finding solutions requires everyone, from presidents and prime ministers to corporate executives, laborers and students.
On the way to the megamall this weekend as you pass the scenery of suburbia, imagine being in Kosovo. And, check your jadedness at the door, because this is not about guilt.
It’s about awareness.
It’s about caring … and dignity.
It’s about having the right to freedom and equality.
That’s what human rights are all about. Isn’t that what you want? So does everyone else.
Jerry Flattum is the Daily’s opinions editor. Send comments to [email protected]