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Human Rights Day after the ‘breakthrough’: celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in 1978 and 1988

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2015

Roland Burke*
Affiliation:
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, DMB E130 Melbourne, Australia E-mail: R.Burke@latrobe.edu.au

Abstract

This article examines the impact of the late 1970s ‘breakthrough’ in human rights, as it was registered within the United Nations. It analyses the debates on human rights at the thirtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in December 1978, and those a decade later. These two moments, among the few that invited explicit reflection from states on the meaning of human rights, and of their universality, reveal that the effects of the ‘breakthrough’ arrived at the UN after a long period of latency. Even by 1988, their manifestation was only partial, and often contradictory. The profound gap between the efflorescence in the NGO movement and the depressing stasis, or worse, elsewhere suggests the need for a more complex periodization of the 1970s as an era of decisive triumph in the ascent of human rights.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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References

1 The most influential work written in this ‘long genealogy’ mode is the magisterial survey text, Lauren, Paul Gordon, The evolution of international human rights: visions seen, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998Google Scholar; and, more recently, Hunt, Lynn, Inventing human rights: a history, New York: W. W. Norton, 2007Google Scholar. For similar ‘continuity’-based histories, with a focal point on the immediate post-war period, see also Glendon, Mary Ann, A world made new: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New York: Random House, 2001Google Scholar; and Korey, William, NGOs and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a curious grapevine, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998Google Scholar. See further the hybrid genealogy and periodization of Cmiel, Kenneth, ‘The emergence of human rights politics in the United States’, Journal of American History 86, 3, 1999, pp. 1231–1250CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cmiel, Kenneth, ‘The recent history of human rights’, American Historical Review 109, 1, 2004, pp. 117–135Google Scholar.

2 For a representative sample of the new history, with its centre of gravity in the 1970s, see Moyn, Samuel, The last utopia: human rights in history, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010Google Scholar; Eckel, Jan, ‘The International League for the Rights of Man, Amnesty International, and the changing fate of human rights activism from the 1940s through the 1970s’, Humanity 4, 2, 2013, pp. 183–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Eckel, Jan and Moyn, Samuel, eds., The breakthrough: human rights in the 1970s, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013Google Scholar; Snyder, Sarah, Human rights activism and the end of the Cold War: a transnational history of the Helsinki network, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013Google Scholar; Hoffmann, Stefan-Ludwig, ed., Human rights in the twentieth century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Iriye, Akira, Goedde, Petra, and William I. Hitchcock, eds., The human rights revolution: an international history, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012Google Scholar; and, most recently, Keys, Barbara, Reclaiming American virtue: the human rights revolution of the 1970s, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Simpson, Bradley, ‘Self-determination, human rights, and the end of empire in the 1970s’, Humanity 5, 2, 2013, pp. 239–260Google Scholar.

3 See especially Moyn, Last utopia, pp. 41–2; Daniel Sargent, ‘Oasis in the desert? America's human rights rediscovery’, in Eckel and Moyn, Breakthrough, pp. 125–45.

4 Eckel notes the gulf briefly in his excellent precis of the fractured 1970s rights milieu, see Eckel, ‘The rebirth of politics from the spirit of morality: explaining the human rights revolution of the 1970s’, in Eckel and Moyn, Breakthrough, pp. 226–59.

5 Recent work from Moyn also notes, in passing, this splintered quality of human rights discourse in the 1970s: see Moyn, ‘The return of the prodigal: the 1970s as a turning point in human rights history’, in Eckel and Moyn, Breakthrough, pp. 1–14.

6 UN Provisional Document 58-30254, ‘Special meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, 10 December 1958.

7 See especially the speeches of the twentieth-anniversary commemorative meeting, A/PV.1736,Verbatim Record of the General Assembly (henceforth GAOR), 1736th Plenary meeting, 9 December 1968.

8 UN Doc. A/CONF.32/SR.1, Summary Records of the World Conference on Human Rights, Tehran, 1st Plenary Meeting, 22 April 1968, Conference president Ashraf; UN Archives, S-0883-018-08, UN Secretary-General 1961–1971: U Thant, trip to Tehran, Iran, International conference on human rights, 20–23 April 1968, verbatim text of address by His Imperial Majesty the Shahinsha Aryamehr.

9 Burke, Roland, ‘From individual rights to national development: the first UN International Conference on Human Rights, Tehran 1968’, Journal of World History, 19, 3, 2008, pp. 275–296Google Scholar.

10 The National Archives, Kew, UK (henceforth TNA), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (henceforth FCO) 61/228, J. G. Taylor, memorandum, UK mission to the UN, ‘NGOs: Tehran conference’, 1 December 1967; TNA, FCO 61/231, A. J. Coles, memorandum, UK Mission to the UN, ‘Preparatory committee for the Tehran conference’, 21 March 1968.

11 Ferdinand Marcos, The Philippine experience: a perspective on human rights and the rule of law, Manila, s.n., 1977. The volume had a reasonably accomplished ghost writer, or reflected an exceptionally conscientious dictator, the work being littered with a range of erudite citations and elegant legal reasoning.

12 United Nations General Assembly (henceforth UNGA) Plenary, 32nd session, Resolution 32/130, ‘Alternative approaches and way and means within the United Nations system for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms’, 16 December 1977, article 1(f). For a characteristic example of how the model of ‘interdependence’ in Resolution 32/130 was deployed, see UN Doc. A/C.3/33/SR.58, Summary Records of Committee III, 33rd session, 58th meeting, 7 December 1978, Cuban, Romanian, and Beninian delegations contributions to debate, paras. 25, 45–7, 49, 51–3. See also, the various governmental and Secretariat analyses of Resolution 32/130 in UN Docs. E/CN.4/1318 and E/CN.4/1320, ‘Further promotion and encouragement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the question of the programme and methods of work of the Commission; alternative approaches and ways of means within the United Nations system for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms’, December 1978.

13 For the encapsulation of the NIEO's philosophy, see its two most authoritative manifestos, UNGA, Resolution 3281 (XXIX), ‘Charter of economic rights and duties of states’, 12 December 1974; UNGA, Resolution 3201, ‘Declaration on the establishment of a new international economic order’, 1 May 1974.

14 Resolution 32/130 was the culmination of NIEO reasoning; its essential argument – that the global redistribution subtended all serious progress on rights – had been made vocally well before the end of 1977. See, for example, the speech of its most able exponent, and a major architect of the resolution, H.I.H. Ashraf Pahlavi, in UN Doc. E/CN.4/SR.1389, Summary Records of the Commission on Human Rights, 1389th meeting, 14 February 1977.

15 Keys, , Reclaiming American virtue, pp. 214241Google Scholar; see also Muravchik, Joshua, The uncertain crusade: Jimmy Carter and the dilemmas of human rights policy, Lanham, MD: Hamilton Press, 1986Google Scholar; Simpson, Bradley, ‘Denying the “First Right”: the United States, Indonesia, and the ranking of human rights by the Carter Administration, 1976–1980’, International History Review 31, 4, 2009, pp. 798–826CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 TNA, FCO 58/1149, Keith Unwin, ‘The 33rd session of the Commission on Human Rights, 7 February–11 March 1977’, 11 April 1977.

17 A failure noted with vocal displeasure by those who had suffered under his rule: see UN Doc. A/C.3/34/SR.28, paras. 29–33 and UN Doc. A/C.3/34/SR.33, paras. 31–2, 40–4, Summary Records of the Third Committee, 28th meeting (34th session), 26 October 1979.

18 The published proceedings appeared to contain ventriloquized versions of the main ICJ leaders, Karel Vasak and Sean MacBride, whose comments at these conferences were profoundly dissonant with essentially everything they did in their previous or subsequent careers. For these unusual statements, see generally the collected documents, prepared by the Saudi Ministry of Justice, Proceedings of conferences of Riyadh, Paris, Vatican City, Geneva, and Strasbourg, on Muslim doctrine and human rights in Islam, between Saudi canonists and eminent European jurists and intellectuals, Riyadh: Ministry of Justice, c.1975.

19 Iran, which had a somewhat more convincing narrative to sell, bolstered this defence with forays into the Western media: see, for instance, Fereydoun Hoveyda, ‘Not all clocks for human rights are the same’, New York Times, 18 May 1977, p. 25, and a number of paid, multi-page supplements in The Times (London).

20 van der Spuy, D. C., Amnesty for terrorism, Cape Town: South African Department of Information, March 1978, p. 5Google Scholar.

21 Hansard, House of Commons Debates, 6 February 1978, vol. 943, cols. 383–4W; ‘Owen apology sparks protest’, The Guardian, 1 February 1978, p. 22; ‘Owen defends apology’, The Guardian, 2 February 1978, p. 1; John Andrews, ‘Human rights to the sword’, The Guardian, 2 February 1978, p. 11. The editors struggled to decide between outrage and doctrinaire relativism: see ‘Diplomacy and double standards’, The Guardian, 3 February 1978, p. 10.

22 The uncertainty over precisely how universal Carter's human rights standards should be was a perennial issue for debate within the administration, especially when formulating an approach to the Third World. See ‘Action memorandum from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) and the Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs-Designate (Derian) to Secretary of State Vance’, March 1977; ‘Memorandum from Jessica Tuchman of the National Security Council staff to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)’, August 1977; ‘Study prepared by the Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Group on Human Rights and Foreign Assistance, Presidential review memorandum NSC-28: human rights’, August 1977, all in Kristin Ahlberg, ed., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977–1980, Vol. II: human rights and humanitarian affairs, Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 2013, pp. 79, 214–17, 230–1.

23 Andrews, , ‘Human rights’, p. 11Google Scholar; see also Muravchik, , Uncertain crusade, p. 142Google Scholar.

24 Van der Spuy, Amnesty for terrorism, p. 5.

25 Ibid. Privately, the Carter administration's first-year review of human rights, completed in January 1978, arrived at a similar assessment, though it noted it with rather less enthusiasm: see ‘Paper prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, progress and retrogression in human rights in 1977’, January 1978, in Ahlberg, , Foreign Relations, pp. 351352Google Scholar.

26 Amnesty International, Human rights violations in Ethiopia, London: Amnesty International, 1978.

27 UN Doc. E/CN.4/1344, Tadesse Terrefe, ‘Letter dated 14 March 1979 addressed to the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights at its thirty-fifth session by the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations at Geneva’, 15 March 1979. See also UN Doc. E/CN.4/SR.1634, Summary Records of the Commission, 1634th meeting, 10 March 1981, para. 20.

28 Terrefe, ‘Letter’.

29 Teltsch, Kathleen, ‘U.N. Human Rights Day has asperity and nostalgia’, New York Times, 12 December 1978Google Scholar, p. 2.

30 UN Doc. E/CN.4/1312, ‘Observance of the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: report of the Secretary General’, 16 January 1979. Admittedly, a response was not necessarily indicative of commitment, given that Chile, the GDR, and Hungary conscientiously described their respective celebrations.

31 UN Doc. A/33/PV.77, GAOR, 77th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Lievano, para. 2.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., para. 4.

34 UN Doc. A/33/PV.77, GAOR, 77th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Waldheim, para. 12.

35 Ibid., para. 14.

36 UN Doc. A/33/PV.77, GAOR, 77th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Gayama, para. 47.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid., para. 52.

39 Ibid., para. 59.

40 Ibid., para. 67.

41 UN Doc. A/33/PV.83, GAOR, 83rd Plenary meeting (33rd session), 14 December 1978, Abdel Meguid, para. 60.

42 Ibid., para. 62.

43 Ibid., para. 63.

44 UN Doc. A/33/PV.83, GAOR, 83rd Plenary meeting (33rd session), 14 December 1978, Yango, paras. 148, 156.

45 Ibid., para. 153.

46 Rómulo's universalist orientation was primarily manifest as a liberal, generally pro-Western disposition, and a fierce opposition to classical imperialism; the results were often contradictory: see Espiritu, Augusto Fauni, ‘“To carry water on both shoulders”: Carlos P. Romulo, American empire, and the meaning of Bandung’, Radical History Review, 95, 2006, pp. 173–190Google Scholar.

47 UN Doc. A/33/PV.83, Yango, para. 154.

48 Burke, Roland, Decolonization and the evolution of international human rights, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010, pp. 13–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 112, 146.

49 Marcos, , Philippine experience, p. 17Google Scholar.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid., pp. 30–31.

52 UN Doc. A/33/PV.83, Yango, para. 171. See also Marcos, Ferdinand, Notes on the new society of the Philippines, Manila: National Media, 1976Google Scholar, esp. pp. 32, 80, 104–5; Marcos, , Philippine experience, p. 64Google Scholar.

53 Teltsch, Kathleen, ‘Rights manifesto hailed at UN’, New York Times, 11 December 1973, p. 6Google Scholar.

54 UN Doc. A/33/PV.77, GAOR, 77th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Humphrey, para. 107.

55 Borders, William, ‘Indira Gandhi's aunt says she is “profoundly troubled” at direction India is taking’, New York Times, 31 October 1976, p. 11Google Scholar.

56 Grimes, Paul, ‘U.S. emerging as a center of émigré resistance to Gandhi regime’, New York Times, 3 October 1976, p. 14Google Scholar; Sahgal, Nayantara, ‘The romance and the reality of Mrs. Gandhi's rise to power’, The Times, 11 March 1977, p. 14Google Scholar.

57 ‘India to move an “action paper” on human rights’, Times of India, 13 December 1978, p. 15.

58 UN Doc. A/33/PV.78, GAOR, 78th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Sahgal, A/33/PV. 78, para. 21.

59 Ibid., para. 22.

60 Ibid., para. 30.

61 Ibid.

62 ‘National bodies to uphold human rights urged’, Times of India, 25 November 1978, p. 10.

63 Burke, Roland, ‘Some rights are more equal than others: the Third World and the transformation of economic and social rights’, Humanity, 3, 3, 2012, pp. 427–448CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

64 For further discussion on the equilibrium of the Indian constitution, see K. R. Venugopal, ‘A social charter for India’, in Dubey Muchkund, ed., A social charter for India: citizens’ perspective of basic rights, New Delhi: Pearson/Longman, 2009, pp. 47–9. See also UN Doc. A/33/PV.78, Sahgal, para. 20.

65 ‘Political prisoners in US Young says: UN envoy, in Geneva, compares dissidents in Soviet Union to civil rights campaigners’, New York Times, 13 July 1978, p. 3; ‘Carter tells Young of unhappiness at comment on political prisoners’, New York Times, 16 July 1978, p. 1.

66 UN Doc. A/33/PV.83, GAOR, 83rd Plenary meeting (33rd session), 14 December 1978, Young, para. 45.

67 UN Doc. A/33/PV.78, GAOR, 78th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Florin, para. 6. For the context of GDR self-perception on human rights and their presumed consonance with party policy, see Richardson-Little, Ned, ‘Dictatorship and dissent: human rights in East Germany in the 1970s’, in Eckel and Moyn, Breakthrough, pp. 4967Google Scholar.

68 See Andrei D. Vyshinkii, The USSR and world peace, London: Ayer, 1969, p. 89.

69 UN Doc. A/33/PV.78, Florin, para. 6.

70 UN Doc. A/33/PV.78, GAOR, 78th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Richard, para. 52.

71 Ibid., Ernemann, para. 74.

72 Ibid., para. 92.

73 UN Doc. A/33/PV.83, GAOR, 83rd Plenary meeting (33rd session), 14 December 1978, Attaweel, paras. 201–2.

74 Ibid., Terzi, paras. 221–3.

75 UN Doc. A/CONF.32/SR.4, Summary Records of the World Conference on Human Rights, Tehran, 4th Plenary Meeting, 24 April 1968, Wilkins.

76 AI had made a virtue of the ecumenism of denunciations, with a compendium of various insults from all manner of regimes: see Amnesty International, AI in quotes, London: Amnesty International, 1976; Amnesty International, AI in quotes, London: Amnesty International, 1985.

77 Teltsch, , ‘U.N. Human Rights Day’, p. 2Google Scholar.

78 Particularly on the question of women's rights, where she argued against any notion of Islamic exceptionalism. See UN Doc. A/C.3/SR.478, Summary Records of the Third Committee, 478th meeting, 15 December 1952, paras. 3, 4, 8, 9.

79 US National Archives at College Park, MD, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, Decimal File 1950–1954, 17, 320.13/14-753, ‘Report on the Third Committee of the General Assembly: 14 October–22 December 1952’, 7 April 1953.

80 Masroor, Mehr Nigar, Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Karachi: All Pakistan Women's Association, 1980, pp. 16–18Google Scholar.

81 Amnesty International, Short report of an Amnesty International mission to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 20–25 January 1978, London: Amnesty International, 1978.

82 For details of the Bhutto trial, and the situation under Zia in this period, see Amnesty International report 1979, London: AI Publications, n.d., pp. 104–8.

83 ‘Chief justice turns down Bhutto's plea’, Times of India, 21 May 1978, p. 1; Jane Perlez, ‘On retainer in Pakistan, to ease military rulers’ path’, New York Times, 15 December 2007, p. 4.

84 UN Doc. E/CN.4/1986/INF.1, ‘Commission on Human Rights, list of attendance’, 13 March 1986.

85 The UN Secretariat published a rather more generous biographical note on Pirzada, littered with his numerous legal appointments in Pakistan: see UN Doc. E/CN.4/1446, ‘Election of the members of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities’, 8 January 1981, Annex I, pp. 36–7.

86 Iain Guest, ‘Magna Carta for unkind mankind’, The Guardian, 10 December 1988, p. 21.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.

89 Guest, Iain, Behind the disappearances: Argentina's dirty war against human rights and the United Nations, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990Google Scholar.

90 Guest, , ‘Magna Carta’, p. 21Google Scholar.

91 ‘High court in Philippines upholds Marcos's martial-law regime’, New York Times, 2 February 1975, p. 12.

92 UN Doc. A/43/PV.74, GAOR, 74th Plenary meeting (43rd session), 8 December 1988, Teehankee, pp. 81–3.

93 Although only subtly alluded to in the enabling text, the prizes were required to conform to the edict for ‘equitable geographical distribution’, which had revolutionized the Human Rights Commission in 1963: see UNGA, Resolution 1923 (XVIII), ‘Equitable geographical representation on the Commission on Human Rights’, 5 December 1963; see also UNGA, Resolution 2217 (XX), ‘International Year for Human Rights’, 19 December 1966, Recommendation C. For the full background of the prize, see UN Archives, S-0198-001-04, Human Rights – General Correspondence, UN Chef de Cabinet 1961–1973: Narasimhan, UN Doc. GA/3836/HR/209, ‘Assembly president announces winners of first United Nations human rights prizes’, 2 December 1968.

94 See New York Public Library Manuscript Collection, Papers of the International League for Human Rights, United Nations Miscellaneous Correspondence, Jerome Shestack to Secretary-General Waldheim, ‘Nomination of Andrei Sakharov’, 18 September 1973, and surrounding handwritten notes, c. September 1973.

95 ‘Anti-government priests on rise, Warsaw says’, New York Times, 21 May 1985, p. 7.

96 Nossiter, Bernard, ‘U.N. chief to hold inquiry on rights in Poland’, New York Times, 21 December 1982, p. 6Google Scholar; see also UN Doc. E/CN.4/1982/SR.57, Summary Records of the Commission on Human Rights, 57th meeting (1982), 10 March 1982, paras. 33–4.

97 UN Doc. A/43/PV.74, GAOR, 74th Plenary meeting (43rd session), 8 December 1988, pp. 14–15.

98 UN Doc. A/43/PV.75, GAOR, 75th Plenary meeting (43rd session), 8 December 1988, Belogonov, p. 21.

99 Ibid., p. 22.

100 Ibid., p. 23.

101 For an analysis of the road to the Vienna CSCE, see Snyder, Sarah, ‘The foundation for Vienna: a reassessment of the CSCE in the mid-1980s’, Cold War History, 10, 4, 2010, pp. 493–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

102 UN Doc. A/43/PV.74, GAOR, 74th Plenary meeting (43rd session), 8 December 1988, Badawi, p. 42.

103 Ibid., p. 43.

104 UN Doc. A/43/PV.74, GAOR, 74th Plenary meeting (43rd session), 8 December 1988, Yuanhong, p. 58.

105 Ibid., p. 62.

106 Hijazi, Ihsan, ‘Charles H. Malik of Lebanon, 81; was President of U.N. Assembly’, New York Times, 29 December 1987Google Scholar, p. 19(D). For his comments on the 1968 anniversary, which emphasized the weakness of man, and the need for a shift in emphasis to duties, see UN Doc. A/PV.1736, GAOR, 1736th Plenary meeting, 9 December 1968, Malik, paras. 124–40.

107 Pace, Eric, ‘Carlos Romulo of Philippines, a founder of U.N., dies at 86’, New York Times, 15 December 1985Google Scholar, p. 1. In the year before his death, and after the assassination of Benigno Aquino, Rómulo had drifted from Marcos: see Richard Holbrooke, ‘Romulo: “the problem is Marcos”’, New York Times, 24 January 1986, p. 27.

108 Saxon, Wolfgang, ‘Jamil M. Baroody, Saudi Arabia's U.N. delegate, dies’, New York Times, 5 March 1979Google Scholar, p. 1.

109 For Humphrey's previous major anniversary address, see UN Doc. A/PV.2195, GAOR, 2195th Plenary meeting, 10 December 1973, paras. 89–98; UN Doc. A/33/PV.77, GAOR, 77th Plenary meeting (33rd session), 11 December 1978, Humphrey, paras. 99–111; UN Doc. A/38/PV.91, GAOR, 91st Plenary meeting (38th session), 9 December 1983.

110 UN Doc. A/43/PV.74, GAOR, 74th Plenary meeting (43rd session), 8 December 1988, Humphrey, pp. 68–70.

111 Ibid., pp. 71–2.

112 Ibid., p. 72.

113 Randal, Jonathan C., ‘Empty palace catches tenor of Touré's rule’, Washington Post, 25 May 1984Google Scholar.

114 This proxy for ‘human rights’ activity is given by Moyn, Last utopia, p. 231 (appendix).

115 Manley, Michael, ‘Plenary address at a special meeting of the General Assembly in observance of the International Anti-Apartheid Year’, 11 October 1978Google Scholar, New York, available at http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=4924&t=United Nations (consulted 21 July 2013).

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