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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