What the UDHR Means to Me

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The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), proposed by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948 established 30 articles of universal Human Rights. This document establishes and protects the framework for civilized and respectful interaction between all people and nations no matter what their political, religious or cultural beliefs. Over 190 nations have ratified this declaration; and yet surveys show that more people can name 3 members of the Homer Simpson TV Cartoon family than they can name three of their basic human rights. You can’t defend what you do not know.

At a time when we see women being stoned to death, child executions, people starving in the Eastern Sudan, children being stolen from their families and made into child-soldiers or prostitutes, prisoners being water-boarded, millions of people starving and dying of AIDS each year – we have to ask: what can human rights education do? My answer is everything. It’s where it all begins.

A friend once told me a story I will never forget. In the early 1940’s there was a young black boy in the Deep South, a sharecropper’s son. He went to school in a one-room, tattered schoolhouse. One morning, sitting by himself, he opened a third-hand, torn Civics text book. He read a page – The United States Bill of Rights. He read it again. He looked around and what he saw were white only schools, white only restrooms, and “sit on the back of the bus”. It didn’t make sense. And at that single moment, education, as it does for all of us, made that young Black boy more aware – and he decided to do something about it. His name was Martin Luther King Jr., and the rest is history.

Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can learn to love.”

Human rights violations know no borders. From child soldiers in the Congo, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to the rise in human trafficking right here in the US, it is easy to see that the whole world needs to change.

By knowing all 30 Articles of the UDHR we can be equipped with the knowledge to fight against any injustice anywhere in the world. On this 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration, with all the turmoil that currently exists in the world, it has become more important than ever for people to know their rights, to pass them onto others, and to defend them relentlessly.

The solution to global issues such as poverty, famine, war and political unrest is encompassed by the UDHR, and human rights education is the first step in resolving these issues at a grassroots level.

I hope to see the day when human rights education becomes a mandatory part of every middle school curriculum on every continent across the world, so that every man, woman and child knows and can defend their God-given rights.

The Price of Silence

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Anniversaries are a dime a dozen. We’ve got days for everything. Sled Dog Day. Bubble Gum Day. Ballet Day. Dump Your Significant Jerk Day.  I’m not kidding. Today is different.

60 years ago this December 10th – after the horrors of World War II – the world came together to unanimously pass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Not one nation dissented (though a few abstained). The declaration says that every human being deserves dignity, freedom and respect.  It’s the first blueprint for global rights, establishing fundamental freedoms for every human being.

I guess years of a hellish war have a way of teaching you what’s important.

60 years later, millions if not billions still suffer from tyranny, torture, injustice and inequality. Amnesty International reported earlier this year that the world’s leaders owe an apology for failing to deliver on the promise of justice and equality in the UDHR.

16 global musicians aren’t waiting around for the apology. Instead they collaborated on a new music video project called “The Price of Silence”. The video features artists who’ve personally fled oppressive regimes:

  • Yungchen Lhamo (Tibet) was born in a Chinese labor camp and left Tibet in 1989 at the age of 22, trekking across the Himalayas with her two-year old son to escape oppression from the Chinese regime.
  • Alicia Partnoy is a survivor from the secret detention camps where about 30,000 Argentineans “disappeared.”
  • Emmanuel Jal was born in war-torn Sudan in the early 1980s. He was taken from his family home in 1987 when he was six years old, and sent to fight with the rebel army in Sudan’s bloody civil war.
  • Chiwoniso recently relocated from Zimbabwe to the United States in August 2008, removing herself and her two children from the political and economic unrest there.

Other artists include Hugh Masekela, Julieta Venegas, , Angelique Kidjo, Aterciopelados, Yerba Buena, Natacha Atlas, Rachid Taha, Kiran Ahluwalia, Natalie Merchant, and Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5.

Don’t be silent. Watch it, and pass it on.  Even to just one friend, one family member.

You can also buy the track on iTunes. All proceeds go to support Amnesty International’s life saving work.

Special thanks to Link TV, Nacional Records, Aterciopelados, music producer Adres Levin (and his organization Music Has No Enemies) and video director Josh Atesh Litle for their help creating “The Price of Silence”.

How Will YOU Celebrate Human Rights Day?

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Now, the outgoing Bush administration’s plans for celebrating Human Rights Day ’08 can finally be revealed!  On December 10, they are going to carry out the first U.S. Military execution in 47 years, when they put Ronald Gray to death by lethal injection.  According to CNN and several other media sources, Private Ronald Gray, a former soldier from North Carolina, is set to be executed at a federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana by Army personnel.  His execution was approved by President Bush in July.

While there is a possibility that a federal appeals court could stay the execution, the military expects it to take place as scheduled.  The last military execution was performed in 1961, during the Kennedy administration, but was approved previously by President Eisenhower

In a not un-related story, yesterday the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee voted 105-48 to continue to press for a moratorium on executions worldwide.  As the AP dryly notes, “The United States sided with countries such as Iran, China and Syria in opposing the resolution.” 

Last year, the UN General Assembly passed a landmark resolution (pdf) urging all nations to declare a moratorium on executions with an eye to complete abolition of the death penalty.  As Amnesty International noted, the vote then was 104-54, so the anti-death penalty forces have picked up another vote, and several countries have moved from “no” votes into the “abstain” column.  These included Arab nations Bahrain, Jordan, Mauritania and Oman.  A final vote of the General Assembly, almost certainly with the same result, should take place next month.

It’s just my opinion, by I think passage of this resolution would be a much more appropriate way to celebrate Human Rights Day ’08, and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, than what the government of the USA has in mind. 

Here’s another great way to celebrate Human Rights Day this year!