Today marks anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December 10, 2010
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Reporter Rebecca Berfanger wrote this blog post.

To celebrate the anniversary of the United Nation’s proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, organizations around the world have celebrated the words in that document on or near Dec. 10.

At Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, various human rights groups have come together since at least 2008, the 60th anniversary, and every year the celebration has grown.

This year, supporters of human rights in Indiana met in the law school’s atrium on Dec. 3, the last day of the last week of classes before final exams started.

After enjoying free dinner from India Garden and music courtesy of DJ Kyle Long of Cultural Cannibals, who has provided entertainment since the inaugural event, attendees listened to speakers share their viewpoints and activism, including their work with undocumented immigrants, how they have aided victims of human trafficking, efforts in Indiana to protect workers, and how art can express violations of these rights.

Following a brief introduction from LL.M. student Avril Rua, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Center of Eldoret, Kenya, Ian McIntosh, director of international partnerships and anthropology professor for Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, discussed the parable of the starfish.

Many people raised their hands to acknowledge they had heard the story before, including myself.

He then told the story: after a million starfish were thrown from the ocean onto the shore, a man walking down the beach noticed a boy throwing them back in, one by one. When the man approached the boy to tell him he couldn’t possibly save all the starfish, there were simply too many, the boy then threw in another one, and said, “but I can save this one.”

This is a good way to look at helping others whose human rights are being violated, McIntosh said. But the real challenge should be how to create systemic change that will prevent the starfish from ending up on the shore in the first place, or keep them in the ocean after they are thrown back.

Following McIntosh, professor George Edwards, director of the law school’s Program in International Human Rights Law, moderated a panel discussion of eight speakers, including artists and activists.

While they presented too much information in that hour to include here, speakers included:

- Latino Youth Collective, whose members were involved in a hunger strike for the passage of the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for immigrant youth who have spent most of their lives in the United States;

- artists of the Invisible Frontier Art Exhibition, works from which were displayed at the back of the room;

- Center for Victim and Human Rights, which helps victims of human trafficking;

- Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, which has been working with hotel workers in Indianapolis to receive a fair wage; and

- UNITE-HERE, an organization that represents workers in low-wage industries that include many immigrant workers and women, including hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry, and airport industries.

While informative, the event was meant to be a call to action, and a reminder that the ideal that every person is entitled to certain rights through the UDHR shouldn’t only be one day, but every day.

As one speaker said, human rights violations take place every day – but that doesn’t mean nothing can be done to help those who are oppressed, for whatever reason. People can make a meaningful difference, whether that’s through pro bono work for a legal aid organization or volunteering for a charity of one’s choice.

While you can’t save all the starfish, you can still make a difference, for one starfish at a time.

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  1. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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