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. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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