“The Great Moments of the Near East are the Judges of the World”

When it comes to discussing a major contribution to Human Rights, Charles Habib Malik (1906- 1987) represents quite an inspirational model. His achievements are countless; he was a  Lebanese academic, diplomat, and philosopher, who served as the Lebanese representative to the United Nations, the President of the Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations General Assembly, and responsible for the drafting and adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Malik was a member of the Lebanese Cabinet, and the national minister of Education and the Arts, Foreign Affairs and Emigration. Following the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, Malik helped found the Front for Freedom and Man in Lebanon, which he named as such, to defend the Christian cause. It was later renamed the Lebanese Front. A Greek Orthodox Christian, he was the only non-Maronite among the Front’s top leaders. Malik was widely regarded as the brains of the Front, in which the other politicians were the brawn.

Dr. Malik wanted an explicit reference to God to establish that people in the Middle East are endowed with “some inalienable rights given by their Creator.”He believed that priority was placed on gaining universal support for a proclamation of human rights in a complex world divided by traditions, religions, and ideologies with different view of life. He added that each and every human being, without distinction of gender, race, ethnicity, class or social dignity, by nature or because it was conferred by God, distinguishes them to bear the same sacred, cosmic, unique, and eternal value which is innate and intrinsic to their human condition, and therefore they all merit the same exquisite consideration and greatest respect.

Malik insisted that the task of creating the United Nations Charter was not complete without a formal guarantee of inherent human rights. Through his constant defense of the philosophical understanding of universal truth and inalienable human rights, Dr. Malik persuaded other ambassadors of the higher importance of protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms of each individual (e.g., freedoms of conscience, belief, religion, press). He argued that a person who has their basic needs such as food, housing, or work met, cannot be deemed free if they cannot freely express their opinions, beliefs, or practice their religion. As such, Charles Malik argued that protecting and promoting human rights ought to be the organization’s primary purpose not only in the West but also in the Middle Eastern region. A signatory of the original U.N. Charter, Malik was also considered one of the intellectual leaders of the drafting committee for the UDHR.

Malik integrated a philosophical viewpoint to the industry; his “Four Basic Principles,” which guided his UDHR work, were:

  • The individual comes before any state or ethnic/cultural group.
  • The most valuable possessions of individuals are their minds and consciences.
  • Coercion by states, governments, or religions of individuals is wrong, wrong, wrong.
  • An individual’s conscience is the best judge of right and wrong.

Malik presented his argument to the assembly, claiming that economic security is not enough to cover basic human rights, as they are all about the individual. This was an important argument against the competing communist ideology of the Soviet Union, which argued that human rights could only be exercised through the collective and the state.

A strong advocate of the “natural law” approach to defining human rights, Malik believed the UDHR to be more than a document of morally persuasive worth. Like many other representatives on the Commission, he understood that the Declaration would be immediately followed by a specific, legally binding treaty. Still, he was hesitant to regard the Declaration as simply a proclamation of human rights. He believed it to be far more significant than that. In Paris, upon adoption of the Declaration, Malik said that,

“Whoever values man and his individual freedom above everything else cannot fail to find in the present Declaration a potent ideological weapon. If wielded in complete goodwill, sincerity, and truth, this weapon can prove most significant in the history of the spirit.”

Dr. Malik, Lebanese Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, was the right man for the job, as he took part in facilitating and ensuring the successful drafting and passage of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “The great moments of the Near East are the judges of the world.”

Written by Lynn El Husseini, a volunteer and student at the Lebanese American University in Beirut

Photo credits to thedisorderofthings.com