By Sudarshan Kapoor
“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.” Those were the powerful and prophetic words uttered by Eleanor Roosevelt, head of the Human Rights Commission, while submitting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) document to the UN General Assembly, which adopted the document on Dec. 10, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.
The UDHR was the result of the bitter experience of World War II, atrocities committed during the Holocaust and the dismantling of the oppressive colonial system. It symbolized the hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions of people seeking peace, security and justice all over the world. It sent a powerful signal to the world governments to be accountable and respectful of human rights and basic freedoms of their citizens. It also made the citizens responsible for holding their governments accountable for achieving and protecting these rights.
The UDHR was adopted to complement the UN charter as a road map to a peaceful and just world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want that are proclaimed as the highest aspirations of the common people. A peaceful world that is free of war and violence, devoid of hatred, prejudice and discrimination was the dream conceived by the General Assembly.
It is noteworthy to mention that Eleanor Roosevelt, popularly called the First Lady of the World by President Harry Truman, was the main driving force behind the formulation and adoption of the UDHR, which will be remembered as her major legacy. Although Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong advocate for human rights, she was equally concerned about the responsibilities that go along with human rights. While working on the human rights document, she mentioned that “freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”
What Are Human Rights?
The UDHR consists of 30 articles that describe 1) civil and political rights such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; 2) economic, social and cultural rights such as rights to work, social security, education, health care and 3) collective rights such as the rights to development, self-determination and participation in community life. These human rights as mentioned in the document are universal and inalienable, interdependent and indivisible, egalitarian and nondiscriminatory in character.
Human rights are rights which are inherent to all human beings regardless of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language or any other status. Human rights are fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because he or she is a human being. Human rights provide a foundation for international human rights laws and are often expressed and guaranteed by governments when legislated, for example, civil rights in the United States. Human rights entail both rights and obligation at the government and individual level. Though human rights are considered natural rights or believed to be God given, their conception, increasing importance and universal acceptance are relatively new.
Theme of Commemoration in Fresno
This year, the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley has selected its theme—Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery That’s Closer Than You Think. Human trafficking is a heinous crime and gross violation of human rights.
Article 4 of the UDHR states that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude.” Article 5 echoes the same sentiments and states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In the light of these two Articles and the human values stressed in the preamble to the UDHR, human trafficking is an abomination to the human race and conscience. It is unconscionable to learn that 12 million people are in forced labor or sexual servitude.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is widespread throughout the United State. No community is immune to human trafficking and its crippling effects. In Fresno County alone, more than 100 cases have been reported during the past two years.
The Human Rights Coalition has invited Jim and Karen Schmidt to speak on this theme. Both are well versed in the issues and concerns pertaining to human trafficking.
Jim Schmidt is a noted mainstream Hollywood producer of documentaries and feature films, including Trade of Innocents, which will be shown on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. at College Community Congregation Church (5550 N. Fresno St.). Karen Schmidt is the chair of the Public Awareness Committee for the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking in Bakersfield. Both will speak on Dec. 8 at the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno (2111 E. Nees Ave.). The commemoration event is sponsored and supported by 35 groups and organizations in the Central Valley. Human rights are like the oxygen for all of us and essential for our existence as human beings on this planet. Admission to both events is free, and the facilities are wheelchair accessible. The public is invited.
Prof. Sudarshan Kapoor is the coordinator/facilitator of the Human Rights Commemoration Day in Fresno. He was the founding director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Fresno State. Contact him at 559-435-2212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.