“Democracy, pure democracy, has at least its foundation in a generous theory of human rights. It is founded on the natural equality of mankind. It is the cornerstone of the Christian religion. It is the first element of all lawful government upon earth.” The words of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States of America, which describe what certainly ought, but all too often is not, the guiding principle of government. These words come to mind with the announcement that Poland is to seek a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body of 47 UN member states that oversees respect for human rights, for a two-year term from 1st January.
Poland’s foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, told reporters in Warsaw on Monday that Poland wished to join the UN Human Rights Council for the 2020-2022 term to advance, among other priorities, “the rights of children and people with disabilities in armed conflicts”. Czaputowicz said that Poland would also focus on helping religious minorities and on strengthening civil society if it does succeed in becoming a member of the Council. According to Poland’s PAP news agency, the decision on whether Poland has been elected is due to be made on 16th October.
No doubt some critics would say that the current Polish government should look closer to home when it comes to protecting the rights of minorities and strengthening civil society. But for an organisation which includes such giants of respect for human rights as China, Saudi Arabia, and the usual handful of third world dictatorships, and which had to re-founded as recently as 2006 because its predecessor was seemingly beyond satire, Poland’s membership would be a welcome step forward.
Besides, the current Polish government does at least pay lip service to Christian values. Whatever its perceived failure to meet the Gospel standard of loving one’s neighbour as one’s self, Poland certainly has an infinitely better record on human rights than the aforementioned countries which maintain capital punishment and execute more of their citizens than every other nation put together.
Be that as it may, the Polish government also announced that after a break of over ten years, Poland will return to taking part in UN peacekeeping operations. Czaputowicz said that 230 Polish soldiers would go to Lebanon later this year to work alongside Irish soldiers. He added that, in contrast to the previous Civic Platform government, the Law and Justice government believes that “being part of UN peace keeping is important.”
Czaputowicz’s announcement of the return to peace keeping came as part of his setting out Poland’s priorities when it takes over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on 1st August. These priorities include strengthening the role of international law, the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, and security beyond its borders, including in neighbouring Ukraine, Czaputowicz said.
He told reporters that Poland would organise several high-profile events during its month-long stint presidency which would include a debate on children in armed conflicts on 2ndAugust, a high-level briefing on humanitarian law on 13th August, and a debate on security in the Middle East on 20th August. Czaputowicz also said that Poland would hold a debate on religious at the UN on 22nd August, a day designated by the UN as the international day to commemorate victims of violence based on religion.
And the 1st August is an appropriate date to reflect on human rights, for this year is the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising when the city rose up in the largest military operation by any underground resistance movement in German occupied Europe. For during the struggle, which lasted for 63 days until the overwhelming German forces prevailed, the citizens of Warsaw were subjected to acts of murderous barbarism and depravity of almost unimaginable horror. Some 18,000 Polish fighters and 200,000 civilians were killed.
The occupying forces that fought against the insurgents and slaughtered the civilian population afforded the Poles no rights and, devoid of humanity themselves, regarded the occupied as barely human, all the easier to perform their diabolical deeds. If there is a lesson to be learned it is simply this: every human has the duty to treat every other human with dignity. It is his right as much as it is yours.