13:45, June 28 31 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-28 13:45:26
The principled thinkers behind universal human rights

In reminding us of the 70th anniversary yet to come on 10 December 2018 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Celebrate the NHS at 70. But don’t forget what inspired it, Journal, 27 June), Afua Hirsch missed an opportunity to reflect that it was a Briton, HG Wells, whose The Rights of Man provided the source for much of the text of the declaration. Thus, through the work of the drafting committee chaired by a Canadian, John Peters Humphrey, the UK played a key underpinning role in its drafting.

The declaration was the principal driver in the development of the 1950 European convention on human rights, which adopted much of the UDHR but also established a court for the enforcement of the convention: the European court of human rights. Another Briton, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, played a key part in the development of the convention.

It is quite right that we should celebrate the UDHR’s 70th anniversary, because it and the later European convention were designed to prevent a repetition of the atrocities and excesses of suppression practised by the Nazis and other fascistic nations before and during the second world war.

It is significant that a number of UN member states have declined to accept the principle that the UDHR has the force of law in their domestic legislation. Most notable of these is the United States of America, even though Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the concept of “the four freedoms” (which are built into the UDHR) in his State of the Union address in January 1941. This position was reinforced in the US Supreme Court in 2004 (Sosa v Alvarez-Machain) and, under the current president and supreme court, membership is unlikely to change.

Paul F Faupel

Somersham, Cambridgeshire

Another anniversary to add to Afua Hirsch’s list: the Co-ordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service was created with the support of Unesco at the same moment as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has promoted international volunteering and peacemaking through youth exchange for 70 years.

Nigel Watt

Volunteer, Action for Peace

This year is also the 50th anniversary of Garrett Hardin’s pernicious essay The Tragedy of the Commons, which was used, along with ideas from Hayek, Buchanan, Friedman, enclosures and privatisations, to further justify the very philosophy that has produced many commons tragedies, from climate change to antibiotic resistance, plastics pollution to bonus culture.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel economics award for work on “management of the commons” and her principles of institutions. Her work is rarely referenced by the mainstream media, and least of all by politics and economics journalists, yet the biggest political topics under debate are all to do with Earth as the biggest commons. She was philanthropic, in stark contrast to the misanthropic but far better known Friedman and Buchanan, Ayn Rand and Garrett Ha

rdin.

Robin Le Mare

Allithwaite, Cumbria

Afua Hirsch refers to the imperial soldiers forgotten after the first world war. My father was welcomed as a lieutenant into the British West Indies Regiment during the conflict. Afterwards, however, he and his men were entrained for eight days to Brindisi, Italy. There, for many months, no boats could be found to return them to the Caribbean. Many frustrated, battle-hardened soldiers mutinied. An unacknowledged number were shot for treason against their king.

My father, an officer and himself Jamaican, was so ashamed of this action that he was bound never to report it. He did finally tell me about it on his deathbed in 1963.

The favourable British reaction to the massacre of Sikhs at Amritsar also in 1918 convinced him that at that time, black colonials had served their purpose.

Dominick Shirley

Lewes, East Sussex

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