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 later on adopted the document on Dec. 10, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.
The UDHR document 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 the freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want—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 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 is remembered as her major legacy. Whereas Roosevelt was a strong advocate for human rights, she was equally concerned about responsibilities that go along with human rights.
While working on the human rights document, she mentioned, “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 document 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 that 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 levels. Though human rights are considered natural rights or believed to be God given, their conception, increasing importance and universal acceptance are relatively new.
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. Prof. Marjorie Cohn of the Jefferson School of Law San Diego, a well-known scholar with expertise on human torture, addressed our 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 of those who attended expressed the desire that we continue the human rights commemoration in future years.
The second human rights commemoration was held on Dec. 7 and 8, 2013, with a theme of “Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery That Is Closer Than You Think.” The feature film: Trade of Innocents, a powerful movie that raises public awareness on human trafficking was shown on Dec. 7, 2013.
On Dec. 8, 2013, Jim Schmidt, a producer of the movie, Trade of Innocents, 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 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 local resources in Fresno and the Central Valley.
2014 Commemoration in Fresno
For Dec. 13, the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley has selected the theme, “Bullying—Human Rights Violation Against Freedom, Equality, Dignity and Respect.” Bullying is apparently an age-old problem. It has been rampant in all societies and cultures. Its presence in our schools is a growing concern for parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders.
With all the media coverage about school violence and educational emphasis on safe schools, addressing the problem of bullying in schools deserves our attention, resources and commitment. According to one study, 86% of the students said that they turn to lethal violence because of being bullied. Almost the same percentage said that the school shootings are motivated by a desire to get back at those who have hurt them.
Bullying is violence and violence perpetuates violence. Bullying in schools starts the cycle of violence at an early stage. It is a violation against freedom, equality, human dignity and respect—values that are highly emphasized in the charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Human Rights Coalition has invited the Honorable Judge David Gottleib of the Fresno Superior Court to be the keynote speaker. Judge Gottlieb is an expert in promoting and implementing restorative justice as an alternative method to rehabilitate rather than to just punish youth offenders. He has established many programs, including the Bright Futures Program, and an award system for positive reinforcement for youth on parole. He is the recipient of the 2011 Hands-on Hero from First Five.
In addition, there will be two panels. The first panel will consist of students and some parents who will share first-hand experiences pertaining to bullying. The second panel will consist of experts including teachers and administrators who will discuss policies, procedures and possible solutions. There will be breakout sessions for the audience to share their reactions and responses. Several organizations and groups have been invited to display their material related to bullying and human rights.
This year’s commemoration is being organized in partnership with the Fresno County Office of Education under the leadership of Superintendent Jim Yovino, whose office has provided tremendous help and expertise to the organizers of the Human Rights Commemoration Day.
We are grateful to Dr. Joseph Castro, president of Fresno State, the College of Health and Human Services and the staff of the university for providing us the facility for holding the commemoration at North Gym 118. The commemoration is sponsored and supported by more than 30 groups and organizations. Admission is free, and the event is wheelchair accessible. The event is from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and lunch is included. All ages are invited and encouraged to attend. Parking in designated areas is relaxed.
Prof. Sudarshan Kapoor is currently the chair of the Human Rights Coalition. He was the founding director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program and the founder of the Peace Garden at Fresno State. Contact him at 559-435-2212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.