Celebrate, Reflect, and Act: International Human Rights Day 2009

December 10, 2009

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

—Eleanor Roosevelt

I have long loved these remarks by Eleanor Roosevelt. They stand the test of time all these years later, and especially on this day, December 10, International Human Rights Day 2009. December 10 was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a global first in the proclamation of human rights.

The focus of Human Rights Day this year is nondiscrimination. According to Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, “The realisation of all human rights — social, economic, and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights — is hampered by discrimination. All too often, when faced with prejudice and discrimination, political leaders, governments, and ordinary citizens are silent or complacent.”

Each of us has a story to tell about discrimination, its vagaries, its dichotomies, its sting, and its lessons. Growing up in a military family, I often thought about the contradiction of the ideal of full human rights for all while living in a country whose own government’s policies and practices at the time supported just the opposite: Executive Order 9981, Jim Crow laws, separate but equal. Years later, in the midst of a protest rally against Operation Iraqi Freedom, I recalled the pride of living in this imperfect democracy, where I could actually participate in peaceful and lawful protest. I have had the good fortune to meet and learn from social justice activists from Zimbabwe to Ukraine, and I value this right even more in light of the lessons their work taught.

On this day dedicated to nondiscrimination and universal human rights, reflect and act. Here are just a few ways to get started.

By:   |   December 10, 2009

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