EUROPEAN UNESCO CONFERENCE
Limassol, Cyprus, 22 – 23 November 2001
A bitter taste is what a human rights activist experiences, examining the status of human rights’ respect and protection recently. A visible trend for the degrading of human rights and fundamental freedoms is present in the minds and, unfortunately, in the actions of most of the governments. The September eleven terrorist attack against the United States turned to be a negative milestone in the long history of human rights’ protection and respect. What is even worst is that the peoples neutrally or even positively accept this situation, responding to the plasmatic dilemma, “the need for security or the demands of liberty”.
Trials may be held by military personnel in secret, based on evidence kept from the accused. The defendants will be judged not by a jury of their peers but by military officers who may impose the death penalty, not by unanimous verdict but by two-thirds majority. They may take their decision based on evidence, including hearsay, that would be excluded from civilian courts. Worst of all, for most of the accused there would be no right of appeal.
Those are the main provisions of the so called “anti-terrorism” Presidential order imposed in the United States, according to which the authorities will have the right for the indefinite arrest and detention of “foreigners” without any proper judicial procedures, with only a “suspicion” that the detained “may have links” with terrorism. A similar legislation is also proposed in Britain, a member state of the European Union. Other governments are ready and willing to follow such examples. The European arrest warrant is another vexed issue. The Belgian government, which holds the EU presidency, wants it to cover about 30 crimes, including not only terrorism and money-laundering but also organ-trafficking, stolen vehicles and drugs and arms offences. Several countries have lodged objections, with Italy seeking a shorter list.
At the same time discrimination based on the color, the religion and the ethnic origin are again experienced in many countries. We, therefore, can suggest that human rights and fundamental freedoms are in danger, while there is no indication that such danger will be soon terminated.
It is ironic to realize that, in the process of defending the achievements of our civilization against the dark forces of terrorism, we are ready to attack on a major part of such civilization, such part unquestionably including human dignity and the protection and respect of everyone’s human rights and fundamental freedoms.
I have furthermore to stress that those negative developments came at a time when the international community was extremely vulnerable, trying to find appropriate methods towards defending itself from the possible violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms emerging from the advancement of technology in the field of personal data transfer and elaboration. There was a huge confusion since personal data, the value that peoples were trying to protect and defend, became the central target of each and every anti-terrorism action.
There is no doubt in my mind that respect and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms are values of paramount importance for human civilization. Any attempt towards undermining human rights and freedoms constitutes a real bomb in the foundations of our civilization and as such has to be fought by each and every individual.
Now more than ever we have a duty to defend our dignity and freedom. Peoples, organizations and individuals have to unite their efforts for the prevalence of the values for which human race fought for centuries. Our voice is, I assure you, strong enough to make the difference, provided that we believe in our cause and we are ready to fight for it; and we have a duty to ourselves and to the generations to come to fight for it!
Our efforts should be directed towards strengthening the international, regional and local institutions defending human rights and especially those which produce rules based on legal foundations. Such institutions are, inter alia, the United Nations and their specialized agencies, the institutions of the European Union and the Council of Europe and many others.
At the same time and by parallel actions we have to strengthen and upgrade the institutions punishing international crimes and crimes against humanity, such as the International Criminal Court, which has to start functioning as soon as possible.
I sincerely believe and suggest that security can co-exist with freedom. We just have to find the balance between them and establish a fair framework within which we will apply the international rule of law. Such framework shall be solid enough to resist any actions against it. No state, however big and strong, should be allowed to act outside the above framework or to consider the framework flexible enough to be extended according to that state’s political or other interests. No one should be above the rule of law.
For the achievement of the above goals, we have to unite. It is obvious from the recent events that our globe is our country. We have to believe in an international and intercultural dialogue and find the ways and means to bridge our differences. Human rights are the values to be enjoyed by each and every human being; and each and every person, whatever its color, ethnic origin, cultural and other origin may be, is primarily a human being. So, we have the common foundation on which we may build our common understanding for freedom, human rights and human dignity.
UNESCO and its local clubs have a major role to play in such a procedure. I am sure that we all understand that role and that we will work towards achieving those goals, for the benefit of mankind. Now is the time for substantial action.
President of the Pan-Cyprian Association
For the Protection of Human Rights
“Those who would give up essential freedoms for security, deserve neither freedom nor security” – Benjamin Franklin