So I’m standing around in the lobby, drinking a coffee, waiting for things to start, and Jimmy Carter wanders over to say Hi…

I always wanted to say that.

I’m at the opening session of the 2007 Human Rights Defenders Forum, Faith and Freedom Conference, and President Carter is being introduced.  I’ll try to summarize what he is saying:

 

This may be our most ambitious conference.  It will soon be the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  We have the Defenders here, but we also have the elders, who work on this.  At this point adherence to the Universal Declaration of the Principles are — at best, compared to what the commitment was ten or fifteen years ago, or when I was in the White House.

One problem is that leadership in the United States has dissipated.  Not likely to improve for the next 500 days, 2 hours and 49 minutes (looking at watch).  But I don’t think the American People would fail to express their commitment to the human rights we all cherish.

The governments, the UN, the collective commitment of all the NGOs have proven to be inadequate.  We have not effectively marshaled all the potential supporters of the Universal Principles.  There are gaps between those who are committed to enforce human rights.  One year we gave an award to Israeli and Palestinian groups working for human rights, they gave almost identical speeches.

This conference has identified potential allies – the major religions in the world.  There is no incompatibility between their adoption of the basic principles. We all share the same basic commitment, publicly espoused without any apology.  Christians worship the Prince of peace.  All other religions worship peace instead of war.  We are all committed to human freedom and to economic and social justice and the alleviation of suffering, the care for the disenfranchised and the needy.  So there is a common foundation on which the major religions have an opportunity to work together.

My wife and I were in India for Habitat for Humanity, basically a Christian organization, helping build houses in a predominately Hindu country. 

One advantage of religious organizations is their proximity to local conditions.  The persecution of a population can first be detected by a priest or rabbi or others. Often this awareness of human rights persecution is not shared.  They don’t know what to do when the people they care for are being persecuted by their government.  Sometimes they are even given awards.  But the ex[pansion is not happening in a way to widely protect human rights.  There is an incompatibility between us who consider themselves human rights activisit and the groups who consider themselves

At this conference we can consider ways to form that partnership to harness the organizations that already exist.

I don’t think that churches, mosques, etc. that fervently protect human rights, that is not necessarily a violation of separation of church and state.  There are times when there is a problem because the church leaders are in bed with the perpetrators of human rights violations.  In many cases in Latin America the church leaders were very cozy with the dictators because they shared an element of power and influence.  The so-called liberation theology champions were condemned and stigmatized by church leaders – that is something that many religious organizations would be willing to reexamine.  The Pope might read the Universal Declaration principles and say "We stand for this." and that would be a very big step forward.

In fundamentalism a group of powerful men – always men – have a leadership of a religious group and they feel they are superior to others – to women – and they feel they have a relationship with God that makes them feel others are inferior, and that can lead to terrorism.

This conference is an opportunity to improve the cooperation between secular groups and religious organizations.  The religious groups might be receptive.  My hope and belief is that this conference can open the door to great progress and I am gratified that all of you are participating.