Legacy of 2008: A Challenge for Humanity

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Today we are standing on the doorsteps of a new era. People across the globe are waiting for the historical moment, the final step of a prolonged struggle. Finally, after two years of chanting “Change We Can Believe In” will we see Barack Obama take the oath of office and begin what might be the toughest and most important presidency of our time.  

Indeed, being the U.S. President today means so much more than just being President of the United States. Added to the threats and challenges the world is facing is the hope and aspiration of not millions, but billions of people around the world. The expectations of citizens in places as far away as Kenya, China and Sweden, are certainly high and Barack Obama will find his first 100 days (and the rest of his time in office) to be closely watched.

duality-of-humanityYet, as we are stepping into this new era we should once more look back and reflect upon the year which has passed. What legacy has 2008 left us, what can we learn and most importantly, what should we (and the soon to be President) bring with us to make the best of 2009? 

While my last post focused on the environment, the wake up call of natural disasters and the changing climate, I will now focus on another area which has been of great importance during the previous year and most definitely will continue to scream for our attention in 2009.

Little did we know, as we embarked on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) a year ago, that it would bring us so many challenges (Kenya, Beijing Olympics, Darfur, Burma disaster, Zimbabwe, Mumbai, Gaza, the list goes on and on). Even less did we expect the opportunities these challenges would give us. Indeed, the Olympic Games of 2008, which negligence of the UDHR was absolutely intolerable, may also have been one of the most important developments in the effort for global realization of human rights during the year.

While the Beijing Olympics was an unacceptable insult to the Games’ true spirit (“to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man […] to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”) it actually pushed activism and global awareness to a whole other level. 

beijing-olympic-games-will-rebound-from-anti-china-protestsBy hosting the Olympic Games the Chinese government (along with the countries which supported the event) did not only aggravate hoards of people, but brought their long list of human rights violations to the focus of ordinary citizens in nations in all corners of the world. Faced with the reality that their governments would not act to stop the oppression (some even supporting the event), these citizens objected and stood up against the immorality of their leaders. United as one force the movement grew global, got more strength and started to act on the injustice being made.

The year of 2008 has certainly brought the human rights debate to another level. Indeed, the famous journey of the Olympic torch, which was shadowed by protesters demanding freedom for Tibet and human rights to be respected, was as clear a sign as any that humanity is moving forward. No longer are we blind to the double standards and lack of morals in our leaders. The number of people that are standing up for equality is sky-rocketing, and as the Olympic Games proved, the scale of the protests are becoming ever harder to ignore.

Thus it is evident that the human race is developing, seeking a better future for humanity with empathy towards each other and a greater respect for life. Yet, there are still hurdles ahead (some bigger than others) and we cannot afford to stop the vital promotion of human rights. 

The Importance of Neutrality

Peace in the Middle East, further complicated by the events in Gaza, is one of the bigger problems which are being handed over to 2009. It is also one of the most complicated issues on the foreign policy agenda of Barack Obama and has been passed on between U.S. Presidents for all too many years. Since I am not intending on making this post the length of a marathon, I will not dive into a deep analysis of the conflict in the Middle East. Rather I will focus on what I believe to be vital changes that Obama will have to make (preferably during his first 100 days) in the U.S. foreign policy.

gaza3The Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which started on 27 December, as well as the ground offensive which followed on January 3rd, are only the latest events in a conflict which has caused havoc and brought misery to the region and its people for all too long. During 22 days more than 1 300 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives have been lost (many of these are women and children). The human rights violations which have been made on both sides during recent as well as previous fighting are unacceptable and the international community’s poor response is an embarrassment.

At the time of my writing Hamas and Israel have declared two (separate) cease fires. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the cease fires, Hamas’s reluctancy to stop its missile attacks, Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza as well as the depth of the conflict, it seems unlikely that this will be more than a brief moment of regaining strength (while the civilians mourn their dead family members and friends) before this long out-drawn conflict continues.

However, Obama is aware of the steep mountain he has to climb and has thus been preparing for the day when he steps into office. One of the more noteworthy of these preparations came two weeks ago, as he embarked on a historical lunch. Dining with the president elect were no other than the current and the three former (and still living) Presidents of the United States, George W Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

handshake1Obama could learn a lot  from these men when it comes to the policy on Middle East. During the Clinton years efforts towards peace in the region were certainly looking better than they ever have. Yet, despite staging the most favorable conditions (so far) for peace, the agreement failed at Camp David in 2000. 

One of the reasons for this, I believe, is the U.S.’s great support for Israel. As the first nation to recognize the state in 1948, the United States has remained strong relations with the country. In some cases this can work as an advantage. The U.S. has, for example, much greater influence on Israel than any other country and is thus able to sway Ehud Olmert in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

But the loyalty and the strong support can also have negative consequences in their mediation efforts. Given their support to Israel the U.S. is more likely to see things from just one perspective which I believe has and will continue to thwart any peace efforts made by the nation. For how can Clinton, Carter or any of the “Bushes” claim to be a mediator when their loyalty in reality lies with one of the two sides?

This seems contradictory to me when the purpose of a mediator is to be neutral – a person who does not take one anyone’s side, but listens to both party’s to make peace efforts work. I do recognize the complexity of the situation, but with the current lack of neutrality I believe any peace efforts made by the United States will fail. 

Having said that I am not suggesting that Barack Obama should turn to the opposite and pressure Israel with all his might. Seeing as George W Bush’s “hard” Israeli policy did not bring the region closer to peace this would not be the better way forward. As I see it, only neutral diplomacy will put an end to this eternal conflict. If the 44th President is going to change anything in the policy towards the Middle East the first thing would be the lack of neutrality.

 

“Let us seek together, a world better in our time”

Barack Obama, January 2009

 

– Kajsa, Admin Future for America
politics.of.tomorrow@gmail.com

(For older posts on human rights, visit Twende Twende)

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~ by politicsoftomorrow on January 20, 2009.

2 Responses to “Legacy of 2008: A Challenge for Humanity”

  1. As a foreigner who wants good things to happen in any and all parts of the world, I wish Americans will work more in harmony with their president.

    http://novice101.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/inauguration-and-high-hopes/

    Keep the hopes alive.

  2. You are right. Obama and his secretary of state Clinton must focus on solving the Middle East situation and take a more neutral position toward Israel (more Carter and less Bush and even Clinton). It is also important that Israel itself realize the impossible in the current situation.

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