December 28, 2003
Combatting Terrorism by Seeing a Larger Picture
From the window of John Shattuck's office at the JFK Library, you
look out to a view of crystal blue sky and the shimmering water
of Dorchester Bay. Shattuck looks out that window and sees a city
that symbolizes freedom, a city of human rights activists, both
past and present. He sees Boston filled with students and workers
from other countries, reminders that some of us were handed our
human rights--the free speech and equality before the law, the right
to basic human necessities, and to living without fear of torture
or enslavement--at birth; and others achieved them only after a
long, difficult journey.
As chief human rights official in the Clinton administration, as
former ambassador to the Czech Republic, and now, as CEO of the
John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and author of Freedom on Fire:
Human Rights Wars and America's Response , Shattuck has spent his
career focusing on human rights issues worldwide. And he wants Americans
to realize that that global concern is in their best interest.
"It's a practical subject, not just a question of one's ideals.
It's about the interest we have as a nation to promote international
stability," says Shattuck, noting that "terrorism finds
its best breeding ground in countries where human rights are repressed."
Listening to Shattuck I am reminded of the Zulu word ubuntu . It's
a hard word to translate because it stands for a concept we don't
have in English, though we may need it. Ubuntu means that in order
to be fully human, we need to know that others have their rights
to be fully human, as well. In his book, No Future Without Forgiveness
, Desmond Tutu described ubuntu as "knowing that (we belong)
in a greater whole and (are) diminished when others are humiliated
or diminished." A useful model for nations, too. Maybe for
one nation in the world to be fully realized and for its citizens
to be fully free, all nations and their citizens must live with
similar freedom. It sounds like just what Shattuck is talking about,
what he feels we have the obligation to promote.
Yet that's a model we Americans seem reluctant to embrace. Although
we feel a little proprietary about human rights, we've also been
reluctant to act on behalf of human rights on the world stage. The
astounding list of international treaties the U.S. is not party
to, for example, includes the International Convention on the Elimination
of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the Convention on
the Rights of the Child; The International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights; the International Convention on the
Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers; the Optional Protocol
to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children,
Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; and the Optional Protocol
on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed
Conflict; as well as the Rome Treaty on the International Criminal
Court, from which President Bush withdrew America's signature.
Our national traditions of exceptionalism, isolationism, and unilateralism,
Shattuck argues in his book, "have made the United States an
ambivalent, and from the point of view of other countries, untrustworthy
leader when it comes to human rights."
Just recently, on December 10, International Human Rights Day marked
the 55th anniversary of the U.N.'s adoption of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. Is it just coincidence that the day falls in this
season of darkness and light? Maybe the slowly lengthening days
will remind us of the imperative for human rights to shine throughout
City Type features the city's writers exploring their world. If
you have suggestions, contact Ellen Steinbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org.