The ideal that war should be outlawed and that no annexation of territory by conquest should be allowed is crystallized in the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. This pact didn't prevent the Second World War but it provided a basis to bring war criminals to justice.
Reinforcing the Kellogg-Briand Pact, Unitarian Universalists John Washburn from the United States and Elaine Harvey from Canada led a faith caucus to establish the International Criminal Court with the Rome Statute, which upholds the principles for ending war and violent aggression.
In 2014, Russia ignored these international principles and annexed Crimea and attacked the Donbas region of Ukraine. Over 15,000 Ukrainians have been killed in a conflict that has continued until today when Putin is ordering a total war against Ukraine.
How did we arrive at this moment? In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the United States, Russia, and Britain committed "to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine" and "to refrain from the threat or use of force" against that nation. With those assurances, Ukraine gave up its 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads.
In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine. Leading a corrupt government, he amassed incredible personal wealth and lived with great opulence.
Yanukovych wanted Russian to be the official language of the country. He tried to circumscribe Ukraine under a sphere of governments dominated by Russia. But the Ukrainian people refused that destiny. They had enough when the president refused to sign an agreement to incorporate their nation into the European Union after the parliament had overwhelmingly approved it.
In November 2013, Ukrainians rose up to defend liberal democracy. The Euromaidan protests led to the president's impeachment, and Yanukovych fled the country. Ukraine has leaned towards the west and away from Russia ever since.
Putin wasn't ready to accept Ukrainians' sovereign will. Instead, he ordered the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and launched a war in the Donbas with an army of “unidentified green soldiers.”
Today's unprovoked invasion seems like the natural continuation of Putin's imperialist dream.
Putin's actions are not only illegal, they challenge deeply held Unitarian Universalist traditions that see peace, justice, and human rights as linked and interdependent.
The soaring words in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sound like a Unitarian drafted them. In fact, a Unitarian did.
John Peters Humphrey completed the first draft at the request of Eleanor Roosevelt and shepherded the document to its conclusion in 1948. Peters Humphrey was a member of the Unitarian Congregation in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The preamble of the Universal Declaration reads:
"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, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations."
In this dark hour, let’s center ourselves in these wise words. Our faith compels us to support human rights, human dignity, and peace in all situations.
A previous version of this column erroneously stated that since 1945, "no nation had gained territory through conquest until 2014 when Russia took Crimea from Ukraine." The article was updated to acknowledge that have been numerous subsequent violations of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.