Global Human Rights & Us

by Balwinder William Sundhu

The UNDP, Human Development Report 2005 (New York, 2005)1 states:

The year 2004 ended with an event that demonstrated the destructive power of …the tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean and left some 300,000 dead…had given rise to the world’s greatest international relief effort…through global solidarity…

The tsunami was highly visible…Other tragedies are less visible…and readily preventable.  Every hour more than 1,200 children die away from the glare of media attention.  This is equivalent to three tsunami’s a month, a month, every month…The causes of death will vary, but the overwhelming majority can be traced to a single pathology: poverty…is preventable.

Much has been achieved since [1990]…but, much remains to be done.  In 2003, 18 countries with a combined population of 460 million people registered lower scores on the human development index (HDI) than in 1990…in the midst of an increasingly prosperous global economy, 10.7 million children every year do not live to see their fifth birthday, and more than 1 billion people survive in abject poverty on less than $1 a day.  HIV/AIDS is the single greatest reversal in human development…

We face deep and widening inequalities…One-fifth of humanity live in countries where people think nothing of spending $2 a day on a cappuccino.  Another fifth of humanity survive on less than $1 a day…we live in a divided world.

According to the U. S, Census Bureau, there were 37 million Americans were in poverty in 2005.   In British Columbia, 1 in 5 children live in poverty.  Discrimination and corrosive inequality remains – hidden and not so hidden.  We are a society so rich in rhetoric and so lacking in action.

Whether near or far, we are not immune to these problems.    Social and military conflict breeds terrorism.  Hunger, oppression, poverty, exclusion, discrimination…breed despair, resentment and hatred.

The Nobel Laureate, Eli Weisel warns us of the “Perils of Indifference”2. He writes,

What is indifference?

…It can be tempting…so easy…it is bothersome to be involved in another person’s pain and despair.

Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction…to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman.

Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end.  The horrors of the recent century are an important lesson…about indifference.

Indifference is the breeding ground for injustice.

And, injustice is a threat to Peace (everywhere).

Because we know “Crimes against the many, begin with Crimes against one.”

For Commitment, Action, Human Rights, Justice and Peace are Indivisible.

Doing nothing is also a choice.  We must commit ourselves to action.  We must be our brothers and sisters keeper…at home and abroad.

Thank you,

Balwinder William Sundhu



1. Reproduced in Steiner, Alston & Goodman, International Human Rights In Context – Law Politics Morals, Third Edition, Oxford University Press 2008, pp. 265-267.

2. Speech at the White House, April 12, 1999, Washington, D.C.