On December 10, 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its passage was due in no small measure to the tireless efforts of a Polish Jew named Raphael Lemken who coined the word “genocide” (combining the Greek “genos” for race, and the Latin “cide” for killing) in a 1944 book he wrote about the Nazis. Though he evaded capture by the Germans he lost dozens of relatives in the Holocaust.

I encourage you to click on his name in the paragraph above and read the CNN story about him–part of Christiane Amanpour’s recent (and excellent) special Scream Bloody Murder that tells of those who have done their best to stop instances of genocide.

So how have we been doing over these past 60 years since the Declaration was made?

  • In Cambodia in the 1970’s the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed one fourth of that country’s population
  • In Iraq in the 1980’s Saddam Hussein ordered the use of chemical weapons against his own people, Iraqi Kurds, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100,000.
  • When Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990’s “ethnic cleansing” once again took place as Bosnian Serbs indiscriminately raped and murdered Muslims.
  • Rwanda in 1994 saw Hutu militias massacre more than 800,000 Tutsis in a mere 100 days.
  • Atrocities in Darfur beginning in 2003 have resulted from the civil war between African tribes and Sudan’s Arab leaders.

Voices in the seeming wilderness scream bloody murder about atrocities taking place and the world hasn’t listened.

You can read the Universal Declaration of Human rights here. It’s pretty simple stuff. Everyone is free and equal in dignity and rights. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security. No one shall be tortured or subjected to degrading punishment. No one shall be held in slavery.

Why, oh why, do we keep treating each other so badly in this world? If Lemken were alive today he would be a very disappointed man. And as appalled as I believe we all should be at human rights abuses that continue to take place around the world and here in the United States we can take inspiration from the Declaration, from people throughout history who have stood up to genocide when it seemed that no one would listen, and redouble our efforts to protect the rights and freedoms of all people.

If not you, who?