Emory Report

April 13, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 28

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 editorial.

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 international community.

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 Center.

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