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Thursday, December 10, 1998 Published at 15:56 GMT


Strong message on Human Rights Day

Protesters are blocked by Indonesian police lines

Protests as well as celebrations marked the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) in several Asian countries.

Ragi Omaar reports on the immense support for Human Rights law after a century of catastrophe
Demonstrations took place in Indonesia, India and Pakistan, by those who say their rights continue to be abused.

Indonesian police clashed with thousands of pro-democracy protesters. The confrontations blocked key roads, causing chaos in the city centre.

The crowd hurled rocks and water bottles as they broke through police lines near one of Jakarta's government buildings.

In Bangladesh, a series of seminars focussed on police brutality and attacks on women A group of protesters in Nepal petitioned the government to set up a human rights commission.

Other protests were held by:

  • Sri Lankan Tamils in Jaffna and Colombo.
  • Afghan women in Islamabad against the Taleban.
  • Kashmiri separatists.
  • Tibetan exiles in Delhi.

To coincide with the 50th anniversary, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution reinforcing protection for human rights workers.

A special session of the General Assembly in New York was convened while Paris staged an international conference attended by the Dalai Lama.

In the UK a special service was held at Westminster Abbey in London with the Princess Royal present.

[ image:  ]
The new resolution guarantees freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble to protest over government abuses.

"Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels," its first article says.

Passage of the resolution had been stalled for years by countries such as China, Syria, Cuba and Mexico, according to western diplomats.

The resolution recognises that human rights groups have "an important role to play and a responsibility in safeguarding democracy, promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms".

[ image:  ]
UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson said there was a clear link between sustainable development, human rights and the prevention of conflict.

Never again

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 when governments around the world promised to defend 30 basic rights.

The catalyst was the Second World War and the slaughter of six million Jews in the holocaust.

The promise was that never again would such things be allowed to happen.

But in the 50 years since the declaration millions around the world have had basic rights abused.

[ image:  ]
Human rights group Amnesty International says more than 50 governments continue to arbitrarily arrest citizens, 80 governments hold prisoners of conscience and more than 110 governments have been reported for torture.

World leaders, including Tony Blair and Yasser Arafat are among more than 12 million people from 105 countries have signed the petition to promote human rights.

General Assembly resolutions are not binding, but carry the moral authority of the UN.

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