Dean Rohrer

The Trials of Man

This week, the United Nations began discussions on creating a permanent "War Crimes" tribunal. Here, Vaclav Havel discusses the fundamental ideals on which such a tribunal may be based, the UN’s "Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

PRAGUE - Throughout history diverse texts have played fundamental roles in shaping human events. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one such document but differs from the others in one respect: its impact is not confined to a single culture or civilization. From the outset, the declaration was envisaged as a universal set of principles to govern human coexistence. Such fundamental texts are not easily born. The Declaration of Human Rights was the fruit of the special climate of the post-WWII era, when humanity realized it needed to prevent repetitions of the recent apocalyptic horrors and agree on a fundamental, global code of conduct.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights marks UN documents, hundreds of international treaties, and constitutional instruments in individual nations. It informed the Final Act of the 1975 Helsinki conference, which helped end the bipolar division of the world. For the Helsinki accords catalyzed opposition movements in communist countries, those men and women who took the accords signed by their governments seriously, using them to intensify their struggle, challenging the very essence of totalitarianism.

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