In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 5 the International Day of Conscience to promote a culture of peace. This day is a solemn time to reflect on what can still be done to combat the forces of tyranny and oppression that still hold so many captive across the globe. April 5 is also a good time to ask if the UN still cares about its original mandate of promoting international peace and cooperation on social and humanitarian problems.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) uses the word conscience three times. As the Declaration’s preamble begins:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, … Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…” 

These are strong words — and they should be. When the UDHR was written by the newly formed United Nations, the world had just witnessed the barbarous acts of the Holocaust committed by the Nazis and the murder of millions of Chinese and other civilians by the Empire of Japan.  

Around the same time, although less well understood in the West, the communist policies of the Soviet Union were responsible for the murders of millions of people, through the Holodomor (a man-made famine inflicted upon Ukraine by Stalin) the ghastly five-year economic plans, the institutionalization of the Gulag prison system, and other murderous campaigns by Lenin and Stalin. The ensuing global spread of communism would tragically claim the lives of an estimated 100 million people.

So where do we stand today in 2024? Unfortunately, not all members of the United Nations believe in the sanctity of life and the value of freedom. The consciences of over 1 billion people are violated daily by communist regimes around the globe that are members of the United Nations. Perhaps the worst example is North Korea, an open-air gulag that enslaves and starves its citizens while continually threatening its neighbors with nuclear war. The surveillance state of communist China, a member of the UN Human Rights Council, enforces conformity with brutal consequences for those who dare claim allegiance to anything higher than the Chinese Communist Party. Millions of oppressed Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uyghurs, Christians, and those of other faiths can attest to Bejing’s crimes.

The same, sadly, holds true for those seeking freedom of speech, belief, religion, and conscience in other nations still held captive by the ideologies of communism and socialism. In Cuba — another member of the UN Human Rights Council — over 1,000 political prisoners are held captive simply for dreaming of a brighter future. In Nicaragua, the Ortega regime is waging an all-out war against dissent in what even the UN’s own experts say is “tantamount to crimes against humanity.” In Venezuela, failed socialist policies have plunged the oil-rich country into poverty while the Maduro regime operates the largest torture center in the Western Hemisphere, El Helicoide. Things are not much better in Laos and Vietnam, where speaking out against the rampant corruption of their communist governments results in a swift prison sentence.

It is easy to feel cynical when the states carrying out mass crimes against human conscience are members of the very organization promoting such a day of peace. It is also true that a simple day on the calendar seems to do very little to raise awareness of the issues at hand. Nevertheless, it is our responsibility on this International Day of Conscience to bear witness to the crimes against those still held captive and to take a stand against communism and all other forms of totalitarianism. April 5 provides an educational opportunity to point out the difference between injustice and freedom to our students and to our families. It also provides a baseline for expectations of conduct between governments and their citizens.

On this International Day of Conscience, the free world must declare that the status quo of tyranny and vicious attacks on human conscience are gross wounds to the human spirit. Let’s hope that the United Nations will do so as well.