By Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor
Since its inception in 2012, the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley has organized two successful events commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Prof. Marjorie Cohn of the Jefferson School of Law San Diego, a well-known scholar with expertise on human torture, addressed the first human rights commemoration day on Dec. 8, 2012, in Fresno. She spoke on “Government Sanctioned Torture and Human Rights.” The event drew a large crowd. Many who attended expressed the desire to continue the human rights commemoration in future years.
The second human rights commemoration was held Dec. 7–8, 2013, with a theme of “Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery That Is Closer Than You Think.” Trade of Innocents, a powerful movie that raises public awareness on human trafficking, was shown on Dec. 7. The next day, Jim Schmidt, a producer of the film, was the keynote speaker. Following the keynote speech, a reaction panel consisting of local experts on human trafficking addressed the issues. The panel also included a survivor of human trafficking. The event was held at the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno and was well attended. The presentation by Schmidt and the discussion by the panel members were well received by an audience that felt enlightened by the information provided about the available resources in Fresno and the Central Valley.
The Coalition is a relatively new organization and came into existence as a result of interest expressed in commemorating the UDHR, which was adopted on Dec. 10, 1948, by the UN General Assembly. The Coalition has a steering committee of about 20 members who plan the commemoration events in Fresno. The steering committee includes faith leaders and peace and human rights advocates.
It is the dream of the Coalition to bring together those from different walks of life who are equally concerned and committed to human rights, which cover a vast arena of human enterprise. Finding common ground and working together to foster activities that promote and guarantee human rights for all in the Valley is the central core of the Coalition’s mission. So far, more than 40 groups have supported and sponsored Coalition activities.
The Coalition is growing and evolving gradually in its roles and responsibilities. The present emphasis is to commemorate Human Rights Day in December of each year with a relevant theme as selected by the steering committee. Creating awareness of human rights is crucial today as a recent survey revealed that 92% of the people in the United States have never heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The steering committee has tentatively adopted the following Mission Statement for its guidance and operations. It is hoped that the statement will be refined further as the Coalition grows and gains more experience.
Tentative Mission Statement
- The Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley is committed to the core human values and human rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- The Coalition will work as an independent voice in promoting, protecting and preserving human rights in the Valley.
- The Coalition will be a nonpartisan, nonprofit, grassroots organization promoting networking, collective efforts, coalition building on issues, policies and practices affecting human rights in the Valley.
- The Coalition will reach human rights and social justice advocates, educators and students, policy makers and the general public to create awareness about the importance and scope of human rights in our lives.
- The Coalition will promote human rights education at various levels such as schools, colleges and universities.
Additional participants are welcome. The steering committee meets the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. The next meeting will be on Feb. 3 at the College Community Congregational Church (5550 N. Fresno St.). For more information, contact Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor at 559-435-2212, Rev. Dr. Christopher Breedlove at 559-435-2690, Jim Grant at 559-488-7440 or Teresa Castillo at 559-360-8054.
Prof. Sudarshan Kapoor is currently the chair of the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley. He is the founder of the Peace Garden and former founding director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Fresno State. Contact him at 559-435-2212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.