[Outlook]The humanity that binds us allThe 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights falls on December 10.
In 1948, we came face to face with a nightmare straight out of the Second World War, in which the ignorance and neglect of human rights infringed upon humanity’s conscience.
The United Nations has in that organization’s Charter declared that all human beings are born free and equal and that a common understanding of this truth is of the greatest importance.
Confronted with fallout from the economic disasters sweeping the globe, we feel keenly the significance of the norms in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the face of the current situation, we should bear in mind a common truth - What is most important is humanity and the basic rights accorded to it. We must not overlook this fact.
Against this backdrop, an essential component of any strategy to recover from a crisis has to go beyond the simple restoration of market liquidity.
We should not forget that securing the social safety net and guaranteeing human dignity is even more important.
The impasse at present is not only a crisis but a turning point.
The crises have had ripple effects on the community as a whole and each sector of society. For example, the financial crisis led to an economic crisis; the economic crisis to a social crisis; and the social crisis to a political crisis.
Therefore, it is imperative to make a comprehensive effort in our response to cope with this key turning point in history.
The necessity of performing these tasks at such a meaningful juncture is also reflected in the fact that a far-reaching discussion has been initiated to form a new international order.
The election of Senator Barack Obama to be the next United States president, whose campaign adopted “change” as its slogan, is a wise selection by U.S. citizens, who have a high degree of adaptability.
We face a terrifying ordeal not seen before in history. We must be determined to catch the momentum of this time and use the whole world as our stage in the process of recovery.
To this end, we need to consistently pay attention to human rights, actively engaging in the creation of a new global order.
This must come in addition to efforts to resolve domestic problems. For example, we should adopt a future-oriented approach by tackling climate issues that threaten humanity’s future - in particular, by actively participating in negotiations to conclude an international convention to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
President-elect Obama’s first pledge was that, “The economic crisis will never hamper our timely actions to address climate change issues.”
Environmental issues that affect human health are directly related to the protection of human rights.
We are required to be more actively engaged in global efforts led by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to prepare a new global climate deal to take effect after the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.
The 21st century has ushered in a new era, in which our communities consist of multiple cultures, races and religions.
This phenomenon has been firmly established by market-driven globalization and the great migrations on the planet.
Forty six percent of the citizens in Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port city in the Netherlands, are immigrants. A few days before Obama’s election, an immigrant who moved there from Morocco at the age of 14 was elected as the new mayor.
This is a clear example that the international community will enjoy a better and more prosperous future if it cooperates in the protection of human rights that creatively incorporates diversity.
However, we are not preparing for a multicultural society. Rather we only boast of the nation’s homogeneity, and we measure our political mainstream using the yardstick of deep-rooted regionalism.
It is urgent that we now practice self-reflection to redress our problems.
This year marks the historically significant 60th anniversary of both the nation and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The greatest task facing us is of course to mend the tragic division separating the two Koreas and make progress toward a reunified nation.
Tension has built up between South and North due to the recent problems at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which triggered more anxiety than the economic turmoil.
Leaders should face up to the harsh reality that we no longer live in a comfortable era that allows us to aggravate the mutual differences facing the entire Korean Peninsula, which could lead to a catastrophe in the nation’s welfare.
At a time when everyone is being forced to accept change, we should not remain an exceptional zone in the world’s history.
It is high time to recognize and re-emphasize the basic spirit of a reunification formula that prioritizes human rights and our people’s welfare.
The world (and South Korea in particular), is waiting for North Korea to make a “firm determination for changes.”
Progressive figures who have underlined the importance of dialogue and cooperation between the two Koreas and forged friendly ties with the North will be at the forefront to strengthen efforts to persuade the North to embrace unification.
*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action