Tag Archives: international

“I’d probably bear false witness.”

31 Oct
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Yesterday, I was questioning how useful the Declaration of Human Rights in the modern world. Today, I wanted to play with this idea further – what if mission statements were law?

I’ve been thinking about this as part of a sci-fi university; it’s a story idea for NaNoWriMo. Imagine that when space exploration was about to expand, a UN commission met to come up with rules for the proper and equitable use of new worlds. On Earth, we’d laugh about it, and do what we’re going to do anyway. But what if the programmers decided to put those UN rules in the software, so that the new colonists, like it or not, would have to follow it or their tech would fail. Not so funny now, huh?

Article 1 of the DoHR

So apart from the UN rules (which are based on the US Northwest Ordinance of 1787), I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to have the Declaration of Human Rights included in the programming as the law of the colony. This instantly got me thinking of a West Wing quote (because the best ideas usually come from there), which goes:

Sam: Leo, did you know that there’s a town in Alabama that wants (to make the Ten Commandments into law)?
Leo: Yes.
Sam: What do you think about that?
Leo: Coveting thy neighbor’s wife is going to cause some problems.
Sam: That’s what I said. Plus, if I were arrested for coveting my neighbor’s wife, when asked about it, I’d probably bear false witness.

The West Wing, Take Out the Trash Day (2000)
Sucks for you, spaceman.

If you actually look past the prologue, some of these could be put into law without too much difficulty. Others, not so much. For example:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 1 of the DoHR

How do you act in a spirit of brotherhood? I’ve seen brothers beat the crap out of each other as well as hug.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 13 of the DoHR

Let’s say that our enlightened settlers don’t believe in the death penalty -and in my universe, there’s no jails – then exile is the highest level of punishment. If you can’t refuse them to return, what’s the point? I guess this is where it runs in conflict with Articles 10 & 11: Public Trials, but you could argue that Article 29 (2) creates a necessary “limitation” on these rights and freedoms.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 25 of DoHR

After a while, children can stop listening to their parents. After all, if Article 12 says “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence,” then a teenager can say, “Screw you, Mom, I’m going out tonight. That’s where the “special care” rule would probably apply, but it does bring up the legal question.

Like I said, this is part of the problem with mission statements – if they aren’t intended to be binding, then what’s the point? It’s great and inspirational, but if someone says, “What about my right to happiness?!” They need to be smart enough to realize that the Declaration of Independence is not a law – it’s a statement of grievances with an action at the end.

I’m going to have a lot of fun with this during NaNoWriMo. But am I missing the point? What do you think about the DoHR? How would you program/sabotage future colonists? Let me know in the comments below!

Thirty Articles

30 Oct

I don’t like mission statements. No one reads them, you spend hours on them, and people make the mistake thinking they’re important. After WWII, the United Nations was transitioning from a military alliance to a replacement to the League of Nations, so they wrote their own, called the Declaration of Human Rights in 1947. Important, yes, but are they useful?

When you’re working on a story idea, your mind goes to some weird ideas. Since my day job has currently dealt a lot with international law, naturally I’ve been reading a lot of conventions and declarations by the Conference on Weed Wackers, or the Protocol to Stop Bad Things Ever. Before I did this, I condensed International Law into one sentence, “This is the law agreed by all countries, until one of them decides not to.” As I learned, this is not precisely true. Now I’ve learned “this is the law as we enforce it.” India can sign the UN Framework on Climate Change in 1992, and the Paris Accords in 2015, but it’s up to them to enforce it. They did create the National Environment Policy (NEP), but I’m not sure how much the policy has been translated into law or action. Having lived in India, my guess is… not much.

Here’s Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady and generally considered all around smarty, with the copy of the declaration she helped write when she was at the UN at its founding. So we’re trying to transition from a post-war world and get nations to sign on. So instead of NATO, whose mission statement was “let’s keep the Soviets from conquering Western Europe,” the UN was trying to say, “Let’s create a fair and just future. Don’t you wanna be a part of that?”

And it worked! The problem was this was just a declaration, not a law, not an agreement… NOT international law. The Virginia House of Delegates can pass a resolution that the Republic of Vietnam flag is the only Vietnamese flag that can be raised in Virginia (and they did), but they didn’t pass a law enforcing it. This was to appease the Vietnamese exile minority in that state who obviously gave a lot of support to a state legislator.

Nothing like Turkish law books. At least, I -think- these are Turkish law books.

Okay, I hear you saying, so where are you going with this? Why I hate mission statements like this is because people think they have the force of law, when in actuality, they don’t. Take a minor example – I used to work for a giant insurance company, and my job was to be a secretary in Projects… all the IT programs that this company had going. This particular project wrote up their mission statement which had a two sentence statement basically saying, “This project is to maximize efficiency with the widgets. These widgets allow us to help our company grow more profitable.” You know there was a meeting where someone was upset that the widgets weren’t doing something, and even though the tech monkeys explained to this executive why the widget couldn’t do something, this executive pointed to the mission statement and said, “I don’t see how this maximizing efficiency.” We didn’t either, Chuck, but you wanted to use your damn personal iPhone for business purposes, so we had to create the security protocols for it. (shrug)

So the Declaration of Human Rights was used in the same way. I read Sharing the Land of Caanan by Mazin Qumsiyeh, which was the only non-raving version of why the Palestinians should exist as a country. Usually both Israeli and Palestinian arguments involve long-winded historical and religious statements which read like rally speeches, but this one avoided all that. However, even then, he would fall into “But the UN Declaration of Human Rights says…” and I would roll my eyes, because he obviously didn’t get the memo that the DoHR is not law, it’s just a bunch of flowing words.

Later on, when my wife started diving deep into indigenous rights and philosophy, she pointed out, “It’s not that they believe they’re law, it’s just one of the few weapons they have!” In other words, Mr. Qumsiyeh is just saying, “You guys say that you believe that everyone has the right to nationality – why don’t you recognize the Palestinian Authority’s passports?” He knows the DoHR is not law, but he’s using the weapons he’s been given to make a firm and coherent argument to a jaded world.

I guess I’ll have to explain how I’m going to use this in a future story in the next post, but I have to ask, what do you think? Am I too jaded? Do mission statements and the DoHR have a purpose in this world? Let me know in the comments below!

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