Needed: Pithy Quotes on Human Rights

What makes a great quote?  In my book, it is something that is concise and memorable.

I’ve been looking for good quotes on human rights in the lead up to International Human Rights Day on December 10, which commemorates the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Most of the quotes I’ve come across, unfortunately, seem to be long and wordy.  Below are some of the better ones I’ve found.

If you can come up with your own, please submit them in the comments section below!

“Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement

“Human rights are inscribed in the hearts of people; they were there long before lawmakers drafted their first proclamation.”
Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1997-2002

“It has long been recognized that an essential element in protecting human rights was a widespread knowledge among the population of what their rights are and how they can be defended.”
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Sixth UN Secretary-General, 1992-1996

“Human rights is the only ideology that deserves to survive.”
“Tolerance and human rights require each other.”
Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi death camp survivor who dedicated his life to documenting Holocaust crimes and hunting down the perpetrators.

“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 … 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.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, first chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, who championed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

Contest: “Your World, Your Future: Voices of a New Generation”

What is the most vital challenge to international peace and security facing your generation?  If you’re under the age of 21, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations wants to hear your answer to that question.

Simply create a video no more than one minute in length (or write 250 words or less) and submit it to the Mission by December 14.  The three most compelling submissions will become the topics of debate among Security Council members at an event that will be broadcast live at www.un.org/webcast directly from the Security Council Chamber at United Nations Headquarters in New York.   Ambassador Rice’s video announcing the event is here.

According to the Mission, “The challenges we face as a global community have never been tougher, and the youth of the world have an important perspective to share.  Now is your chance to be heard.”

Complete instructions as well as terms and conditions of participation are available at http://usun.state.gov/youth.  Please write to us at youth@state.gov with any questions.

Being Grateful for the Mundane


Back in October, Human Rights Watch was soliciting videos to show “the human in human rights.”  When I wrote my blog about it, I was a bit dubious about what sort of submissions there would be, since in my experience, it’s been a lot easier to illustrate abuses than it is to illustrate the benefits of human rights.

Well, the results are in and posted at “One Day On Earth.”  They run the gamut from the profound to the mundane.

I found “The Pardon” by Joel Karekezi to be especially moving. In the film, Karekezi explores the lingering anguish of surviving the Rwanda genocide – both from the perspective of the victim as well as that of the perpetrator.  The film does have a happy ending of sorts in that the man who inflicted violence realizes the need for atonement and the victim realizes the necessity of forgiving past sins to be able to enjoy the present.

But other film submissions seem to be to be snapshots of mundane everyday life.  And while the goal was to “help document the world’s story on 10-10-10,” I didn’t at first see the connection with human rights.  It was only upon reflection that I realized that human rights — for those of us who enjoy the freedom to enjoy them — are like the air we breathe:  You take it for granted until you are deprived of it.

Learn more:  Human Rights in Brief

Photo Friday

Article 25 of the Universal Delcaration of Human Rights states,

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

A woman donates a bag of food to an organization that provides food to families and individuals in need in Arlington, Virginia (State Dept./Jane K. Chun)."

Defining “Manhood”

What makes for a “real man?”

Too often some men regard as their prerogative the right to treat women as “subjects” — even to the point of abusing them.  And that’s a real problem when, according to experts in this field, nearly one in three women the world over can expect to experience gender violence at least once in their lifetimes.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and many other government officials and human rights activists have said over and over:  violence against women is not a social issue, it’s a crime and a violation of human rights.

Much has been said about empowering women – making them cognizant of their human rights, giving them the means to make themselves strong and independent.  And many U.S. programs are aimed at just that.

More recently, however, the State Department has turned its attention to the role of men.  A recent panel discussion called “Changing Attitudes:  What Men and Boys Can Do to Address and Prevent Violence against Women” brought activists from a variety of sectors to discuss the role of men in ending violence against women.

On the panel was Anthony Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men, an organization devoted to shifting the social norms that define men and ending violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Porter named patriarchy and the “collective socialization of men” as the chief reasons why violence against women continues.  Most men do not abuse women, he noted, but they are nonetheless part of a world-wide social mindset that accepts the notion that women are less valuable then men.  That mindset, he said, may not necessarily condone the abuse of women, but it does create an environment that tolerates it.

That mindset, Porter said, makes all men part of the problem and requires all men to be part of the solution.  What is needed, he said, is a new concept of “healthy manhood.”

What do you think it would take to change social norms about what “manhood” is all about?

Have You Noticed the Woman Living Next Door to You?

Have you ever noticed a bruise, a black eye, a cut on a woman or girl and thought nothing of it?

It’s easy to dismiss what could be human rights abuses as someone else’s problem. This is especially true regarding violence against women, which often takes place within the hidden confines of the family.

But violence against women hurts more than just the victims – it hurts their children and others who are dependent upon them for their care and for their wages.

Such violence, says Ambassador Susan Rice, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, “diminishes the human rights, prosperity and security of societies.”

Although precise statistics are not available, it is estimated that in some countries, nearly 60 percent of women may be subjected to physical violence at least once in their lifetime, according to Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The numbers of women and girls subjected to violence are so large, Pillay says, “that, perversely, they distract us from the plight of the woman next door.”

“What can we do to shake ourselves out of this apathy, this acceptance, this assumption that other people are taking care of this issues, so we don’t need to act ourselves?” Pillay asks. “Doesn’t that make us accomplices to what is, in fact, a human rights violation committed day after day on a massive scale with impunity?”

Why do you think more people don’t step forward in defense of abused women?

Learn more: Violence Against Women is an Economic and Human Rights Issue

Wearing the Veil in the United States

As veil-wearing is debated (and sometimes outlawed) in countries around the world, the U.S. Department of Justice is working to enforce laws that allow women to express their religious beliefs. All Americans have freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and this includes the right for Muslim women to wear the veil.

One such case of the U.S. government going to court to protect a woman’s right to veil occurred in 2009, when Essex County, New Jersey fired Yvette Besnier from her job at a county prison stating that her khimar – a religiously mandated headscarf – violated the uniform policy of the prison. The Department of Justice then sued the prison for violating Ms. Besnier’s right to wear the khimar, a right protected by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires that employers make reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious observances and practices.

On this American high school basketball team, some players wear the hijab, while others do not.

Ms. Besnier’s case is not unique. The U.S. Department of Justice has fought to protect the right of Muslim women to wear hijabs, khimars, veils, and other religiously mandated clothing countless times (Somali refugee Bilan Nur and 12-year old student Nashala, for example). In fact, the Department works to protect practitioners of the many different religions that exist in the United States.

President Obama highlighted this freedom of religion during his 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt. Speaking to a large crowd at Cairo University Mr. Obama said, “Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion….That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.”

Reverend: “When our social fabric is strong between faiths, we as a nation are better prepared.”

“The fears that come from misunderstanding breed stereotyping between peoples of all religious backgrounds, and that is to our detriment,” says Reverend David Gray, pastor of the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Maryland.

Gray spoke to me about the role of fear in undermining religious tolerance at a joint interfaith service of thanksgiving November 14. He and his congregation joined members of the Bethesda Jewish Congregation and the Idara-e-Jaferia Mosque for a Sunday event themed “Standing Up for Each Other.”

“When our social fabric is strong between faiths,” Gray said, “we as a nation are better prepared.”  He added:  “Increasingly world events and politics are impacted by religions. And religion is impacting how different actors on the world stage are deporting themselves — individuals, small groups of people and larger groups.”

Gray feels so strongly about tackling fear head on that his congregation co-hosted a conference in March devoted to the topic of Managing Fear Through Faith, which explored how people of faith can help their country prepare for the social impacts of fear-inducing events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“There is no denying the diversity of the sacred space God has created in terms of belief,” Gray said.  He emphasized that the need to understand other faiths “doesn’t mean one waters down one’s own belief.” Such knowledge, Gray said, “can strengthen someone’s ability to be in dialogue and defend and articulate one’s own beliefs.”

Rabbi: “We are looking for the same ‘spiritual juice.’”

An attack on one religious faith is an attack on all religious faiths, says Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. 

“Here in the West, when one of us [religious groups] is threatened, we are all threatened any time there is intolerance,” he said.  “It’s very easy for intolerance to be directed at one group and bleed into others.”

Rabbi Schnitzer, who leads the Bethesda Jewish Congregation in Maryland, shared with me his views on the importance of interfaith solidarity at a joint interfaith service of thanksgiving November 14.  He and his congregation joined members of the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church and the Idara-e-Jaferia Mosque for a Sunday event themed “Standing Up for Each Other.”

“Jews learned in the last century very clearly that being silent when anyone is persecuted ultimately ends up affecting us,” he said.  “We learned during the Holocaust we cannot stand idly by, because it allows horrors to take place.  Start early fighting that trend.”

Schnitzer noted that it was that commitment to religious tolerance that motivated rabbis in Florida to reach out to the Muslim community when Terry Jones, the pastor of a small fundamentalist Christian church in Gainesville, this summer announced plans to publicly burn thousands of copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. The leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, one of the oldest and largest organizations of Jewish clergy, condemned Jones’ threat. Jones ultimately canceled his Koran burning event.

According to Schnitzer, one of the necessary steps to tolerance of other religious faiths is “to acknowledge the validity of all expressions of God in the world — that they all have the same root, which is a desire on the part of humanity to attach to something much larger than oneself.  Whatever path you take there, nevertheless, we are going to the same place.  And we are looking for the same ‘spiritual juice.’

“Methodologies may be different; the rhetoric may be different; the texts may be different. But, again, the more you learn about the other texts and traditions, the more you see how similar they are, and you realize that primarily the differences show up as political statements and moments in history as opposed to real theological difference.  There are some differences – I’m not going to gloss over them – but at the core, they are still working for the same thing,” Schnitzer said.