Reverend Jesse Jackson Reflects on Working Toward Peace
promotion and preservation of human rights can and should
be the driving force for world affairs in this post-Cold
War era. If it is, the world can be transformed. A new sense
of hope can be transmitted throughout the nations. Such
is the glory and power of human rights-measured by one yardstick
for all human beings.
The elevation of human rights to this exalted position requires
great strength and fortitude by those in power. It requires
politicians to think and act in fundamentally different
ways. This is the highest possible moral standard and moral
plane on which to conduct the affairs of state. It is a
place where few have chosen to go: Jesus, Dr. King, Nelson
Mandela, and Gandhi are names that come to mind; these are
difficult footsteps in which to follow. This is not a part-time
job. This is not for the faint of heart.
I wish to propose some guiding principles for evaluating
the integrity of this new and strengthened commitment to
human rights. These principles should serve as the yardstick
by which the earnestness of world leaders is measured. Is
all this talk of human rights something more than hype or
spin? We'll know if the behavior of the rich and powerful
nations of the world are informed by these ideas:
1) The principle of human rights must be applied with consistency
around the world. This principle transcends geography; it
transcends ethnicity, culture, race, language, and religion.
A commitment to human rights demands inclusion. No one should
be left behind. There are not some among us who are more
human than others; God does not prefer the life of an American
or a European to the life of an African or a Malaysian.
The first real test of the developed world's newfound commitment
to human rights will come in places like Sierra Leone, which
stood by the United States and its allies in World War I
and World War II. They were a democracy. Yet when they were
overthrown, there was no rush to protect its more than one
million exiled and 750,000 killed.
The problems that prompted action in Kosovo are, sadly,
dwarfed by the size of problems facing this African nation.
A $1.5 billion aid package for Kosovo was announced at the
1999 G8 summit; where is the aid package for Sierra Leone?
My own country, which appropriated $13 billion to cover
costs associated with the war in Yugoslavia, is sending
the rather meager sum of $15 million to the West African
organization that worked to end the war in Sierra Leone.
A tale of two continents? Perhaps. But not for long, because
nations that are serious about their commitment to human
rights simply cannot abide by disparities such as this.
This gap in commitment must be breached.
I wish to challenge not only governments on this score,
but also the international media to bridge its own very
real gap in coverage. Pictures and sounds of people in distress
can move the world to action, but if no one sees or hears
or reads about a story like Sierra Leone, action is deferred.
The responsibility is not one of governments alone.
We also can't just say it's racism. When people saw dogs
biting blacks in Birmingham, Alabama, people the world over-both
white and black-said, "We choose humans." When
they saw the massacres
in Soweto and Sharpsville, they chose the massacred over
the killers. When the people saw, they responded.
2) A commitment to the principle of human rights requires
clear and unambiguous respect for international law and
support for the international organizations that administer
it. When it comes to an organization like the United Nations,
we cannot pick and choose when we wish to work within its
framework without greatly weakening its effectiveness.
We circumvented the UN at the onset of the war against Yugoslavia,
only to welcome the intervention of the UN-sponsored war
crimes tribunal at the war's midpoint. We worked outside
the umbrella of the UN in order to avoid a negative response
from Russia and China, only to cede tremendous authority
to Russia and China
in the process that led to a cessation of bombing.
We learned the value of working within the UN framework
during the Persian Gulf War, as the UN marshaled world opinion
against the behavior of Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein. Let
us now relearn that very important lesson in light of our
new sense of international priorities. Let us embrace and
empower the UN.
3) The principle of human rights must be applied outside
the military context. Indeed, since military action presumes
the failure of all other diplomatic measures, the military
option is limited when it comes to advancing a human rights
agenda around the globe. But if we're serious about human
rights, then the major military and economic powers must
figure out ways to intervene that fall short of war. We
have missiles, morals, and minds: our minds and morals are
assets that should be put to work.
Eradication of disease, expansion of health care facilities,
building new networks of food distribution-these must become
the tools of nations truly committed not only to the preservation,
but also the expansion, of human rights around the globe.
Surely, this is what is meant by the verse in Isaiah about
"beating swords into plowshares." Sharp young
minds must be turned away from the instruments of
war and turned toward the instruments of peace. They must
be taught to build bridges, not blow them up; to grow food,
to replenish the land.
And when it comes to trade, nations devoted to the principle
of human rights cannot abide by a trading regime that represents
a race to the bottom. Trade cannot be exploitative; in exploitation
lie the seeds of future violence, revolution, and armed
conflict. Rather, trade must be conceived and implemented
as a strategy to raise the incomes and prospects of buyer
and seller alike. Affirmative steps must be taken to ensure
that environmental and labor concerns are addressed, that
economic justice is done. This is the mandate of a renewed
commitment to human rights.
4) A commitment to human rights requires a preference for
negotiation to military action. Yes, there are monsters
out there and there will be occasions when war is both inevitable
and just. But there will be many more occasions when relations
between and among nations are more complex, more nuanced-with
good and bad motives attributed to all sides. On these more
frequent occasions, we must not fear to negotiate, to talk
over our differences, to try to resolve them short of armed
conflict. A willingness to negotiate requires real mental
and spiritual strength, it requires real confidence, but
it often holds out the best chance to achieve the desired
When I've returned from Syria or Cuba or Yugoslavia having
successfully completed missions that seemed impossible in
prospect, I am often asked, what did you do that was so
different from what others have done? The answer is: I tried.
Love your enemy, the Bible tells us. Well, there are four
reasons why loving your enemy makes sense in foreign affairs:
1) your enemy is a human being and deserves some fundamental
level of respect and dignity, 2) love, in spite of your
anger, will cause you
to reach out when you might otherwise have shut the door,
3) a sense of empathy, mindful of the hopes and fears of
your enemy, greatly enhances the probability of conversion,
and 4) you might just
find some insight into how your own behavior contributed
to the standoff.
Look at just how ineffectual we have been where all negotiation
has been cut off: Hussein, Castro, Qaddafi, and Khomeini,
while he was alive. The failure to negotiate has become
a lifetime ticket to power for these individuals.
Peace is more difficult than war. War is one-sided; it can
be waged unilaterally. Peace requires two sides; it requires
that all players come to the table. Peace involves reconciliation;
it requires building bridges of trust. This is the harder
job. But the goal is worth it.
The great warriors for peace-Gandhi, Dr. King, and Jesus-died
in the cause of reconciliation. The fruits of peace may
be deferred, but they will be realized, and they will be
all the sweeter.
5) A commitment to human rights requires that we always
keep a mirror close at hand, so that we might judge ourselves
by the same high standards we demand of others. As an American,
I want to keep that mirror handy, so that I might reflect
on facts such as these: the largest number of jailed young
people in the world; the disproportionate share of blacks
who are jailed; the widest gap in income and wealth in the
world; our number of first-class jails and second-class
schools. I want
to look at that mirror and see what others might see.
Vanity asks the question, Is it popular? Politics asks the
question, Will it work, is it feasible? Morality and conscience
ask the question, Is it right? This is a haunting question
of hope that will not go away-Is it right?-whether in South
Africa, Moscow, Belgrade, Delhi, or Paris-Is it right?
If the question, "Is it right?" begins to be asked
with greater frequency by governmental leaders around the
world, we will have achieved something very significant.
So let the word go forth: in
Kashmir, in Taiwan, in Sierra Leone, in Tibet, in East Timor-wherever
human rights are under attack, there is a lot of talk going
on that represents a ray of hope.
Perhaps we have finally learned the lesson of 2 Samuel,
where David laments the deaths of Saul and Jonathan with
the cry, "How the mighty have fallen." Let us
avoid the arrogance that comes with power. Instead, let
us act, as Jesus acted when confronted by the lost sheep
in the Book of Luke-focusing our attention on those who
have gone astray.
Let us say to the leaders of our day: We are with you in
the elevation of human rights. That which is morally right
cannot be repressed.
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