ON DECEMBER it 10th, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly passed the Declaration of Human Rights, guaranteeing all people the "right to freedom of opinions and expression...to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media." Despite this noble group effort and the efforts of individual nations however, thousands of people around the world are still illegally imprisoned or kidnapped annually.
One of the primary reasons for this continuing abuse of human rights lies in the covert nature of the violations--most of the abuses involve secret arrests or deliberate cover-ups. We must take some of the blame, however, for not taking united, direct action to countermand such terrorists acts in other countries.
The 1970s and early 1980s have been dubbed by many as the "Age of Apathy," and perhaps appropriately so in light of the widespread ignorance about human rights issues both among the general population and among the supposedly informed Harvard community. While some simply pretend that problems do not exist, others claim that, because of the extent of the problem, any act they take would be in vain. Yet many fail to realize that by failing to take action on the issue, they all but condone the human rights violations occuring around them.
Perhaps the most striking example of our apathy, our laziness in some cases, is the weak support by Harvard students of the Harvard Radcliffe Amnesty International (HRAI). Though the group is essentially apolitical and only attempts to prevent torture, political imprisonment, and other abuses which violate the United Nation's code, it has received only lukewarm support in its campus wide efforts for letter-writing campaigns. Last year, in attempting to secure the release of three political prisoners, HRAI initiated a campaign to send postcards signed by Harvard students calling for the leaders of the three countries involved to take action. Though they tabled at every house and at the Freshman Union. HRAI only secured one signature for every six students.
The lack of a unified stand by Harvard students is especially disappointing when one considers the dire need for coherent action and the tremendous potential for awakening the world to the problem. Amnesty International reported recently that in the Phillipines alone over 70,000 people have been detained for political reasons since 1972. Three thousand of the detainees have remained in prison while the United States has given $900 million in aid to the Phillipines. Furthermore, thousands of death squad murders committed for reasons varying from political crimes to petty economic crimes are occurring annually all over the world.
THIS WEEK, HRAI has once again presented Harvard with a slate of three prisoners being held against the dictums of the United Nations Human Right Resolution on its 36th anniversary. There is Mila Aguilar, literary scholar and activist in the Phillipines, who was arrested ostensibly for "subversion." Through this charge was later changed to possession of subversive documents for which she was allowed to post bail, she was not released, but rather kept in solitary confinement. She is the aunt of Eric Aguilar San Juan '88.
In addition HRAI is appealing for the release of Anatoly Koryagin, a Soviet psychiatrist, who has been sentenced to 12 years in fail and internal exile for publicly criticizing the political use of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. He has been officially stripped of his psychiatric degree, physically beaten, and is now unable to chew or swallow food as a result of a hunger strike which he initiated in January of 1983 protesting his arrest.
Lastly, Amnesty is seeking to end the continued detention of Florence a South African activist. Though her only 'crimes' have been association with the African National Congress and the Federation of South African Woman, she has repeatedly been the subject of banning orders and detention without trial over a period of 20 years.
Even with such compelling cases and the case of simply an already printed said many students still read by saving that such efforts are inconsequential. Fortunately this is not always true Last year for example, one month after HRAI postcard drive. Tariq Ashan, a Pakistani student arrested for lending his motor bike to a friend who used it to distribute an underground newspaper, was set free In fact, 47 percent of the case that Amnesty International handles improve while, only 5 percent deteriorate.
Many students will never see the direct impact of their concern or involvement on human rights, but the moral imperative to act remains nonetheless. Timur Friedman, current chairman of Harvard-Radcliffe Amnesty International, remarks: "It makes me feel like I've made a personal commitment to something that's right. You have to divorce the doing of the thing from the results. You do it because it's right."