Carter Center Update
Carter Center addresses
human rights investigations
"All too often, governments wait too late-until leadership and resources
are needed to clean up after a war and to count and bury the dead. We can
and must do better," wrote former President Jimmy Carter in a recent
Carter's comments reflect the dire need for more United Nations funding
and political support of human rights investigations worldwide. In response
to that need, in early May The Carter Center will convene nearly 60 experts
and leaders, including Mary Robinson, U.N. high commissioner for human rights
and former Irish president, for a two-day meeting to consider this issue.
"As U.N. investigators strive to identify patterns of abuses in
various countries, governments increasingly halt such efforts," said
Karin Ryan, vice chair of The Carter Center's human rights committee. "That
is why this issue is so important. Funding and political support for human
rights investigations is imperative to protect basic liberties of people
in all regions of the world. Representatives attending the May meeting will
strive to determine the best way to prompt the U.N. to recognize the importance
of such work and to act accordingly."
Although it is assumed by most Americans that U.N. investigators operate
with sufficient budgets and resources, they do not. Many investigate violations
on an unpaid, volunteer basis. Taking time away from their jobs and families,
these highly qualified and dedicated people visit crisis areas and try to
determine not only the extent of abuses taking place but what can be done
to stop and, ideally, prevent them from happening again.
Often investigators must overcome great opposition from governmental
officials or human rights violators who wish to prevent them from entering
their countries. Rapporteurs are often harassed while trying to conduct
their work. Perhaps, worst of all, even when they are able to complete their
mission and compile their findings, their reports are often ignored by the
A good example of the difference human rights investigators can make
is the work of Bacre Waly N'diaye of Senegal. Having chronicled the increasing
violence against minorities in Rwanda in 1993, he asserted the killings
met the definition of genocide, which should have prompted quick action
by U.N. member nations. Instead his report was ignored and in less than
a year nearly 1 million people were murdered in a genocidal campaign. N'diaye's
mission cost $20,000, but that funding wasn't adequate to publish and distribute
his findings. There is no telling how many lives may have been saved had
his report garnered even half the support it obviously deserved.
"Recently the International Human Rights Council spoke out about
the importance of human rights investigations," Ryan said. "Representatives
of the council named monetary and political support of U.N. investigations
a high priority. In this the 50th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, it is imperative that nongovernmental organizations such
as The Carter Center work together to prompt governments to more effectively
implement and protect human rights. We hope this meeting will be an excellent
start to achieving that goal."
It is expected that at least 10 human rights organizations will be represented
at the May meeting. Spokespersons from these varying groups will pool their
experience and expertise to determine the best way to prompt U.N. support
of human rights investigations. As Carter concluded in his recent editorial,
"In this age of greater worldwide cooperation, preventing genocide
and other human rights violations must be among our highest priorities.
On this, we should all agree."
Ann Carney is assistant director of public information at The Carter
to April 13, 1998 Contents Page