Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 10th, 1948 the United Nations put forth The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states that as human beings we are all equal and posses certain inalienable rights. Human dignity is the very essence of global peace and justice. Virtually every atrocity committed by humankind has been a direct result of a blatant disregard of certain inalienable rights. This is why they must be protected by rule of law.

The declaration consists of 30 articles. Articles one and two state that we all share equal rights and dignity and that we are born free. Articles three through eleven talk about rights that belong to everyone such as life, security, and liberty. They also state that we are free from slavery, torture, or any other kind of degrading and dehumanizing treatment. Articles twelve through seventeen are about the rights that we are to be granted in civil society. These rights include the freedom of movement, political asylum, the right to marry and start a family, and the right to own property. Articles eighteen through twenty one are about our political and religious rights. These include our right to free speech and expression, the right to an opinion, the right to choose and practice religion and the right to take part in democracy, whether it be elections or directly. Articles twenty two through twenty seven are our social, cultural, and economic rights. These rights include the right to employment, fair pay, unions, education, and cultural society. In the concluding articles, twenty eight through thirsty, everything is tied together with our responsibility to the United Nations, our society as a whole, and to each other.

For a school project t
his previous semester I decided that I wanted to visit each of the high schools in Utah County to find out if they were teaching their students about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I naturally assumed that they were not as I had never heard of it before being well into my college experience. I visited with a variety of principals, vice principals and history teachers to investigate their curriculum. At each school I explained to them why the Declaration was so important and exactly why it should be taught in our public schools. I gave each school a sample lesson about the UDHR as well as created large laminate copies of the Declaration that I asked them to hang in their school for the students to review - as most schools do with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I found a variety of responses ranging from people asking me to come in and help teach it to the students, to one vice principal telling me that I was obviously a lesbian who was trying to sneak in material promoting gay rights.

I chose this project because of my deep love and appreciation of human rights. I believe very strongly that all human beings are born equal and free and are guaranteed certain inalienable rights that can never be taken from them. Some may criticize the declaration claiming that it is based on a western way of thinking, that it’s partisan and not suitable or relevant to all cultures. I disagree with these statements. The declaration is a product of a group of eighteen individuals who all came from very different backgrounds, regions, legal traditions and religions. These eighteen individuals were seeking a “common standard of achievement” that we could all share that would secure a “higher standard of life”. I believe that what they created was a beautiful canvas of interdependent liberties and social responsibilities.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Eleanor Roosevelt who was the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and a staunch supporter of the declaration. She stated that "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." Where are these small places close to home where we go to seek equal opportunity and dignity? I believe that these places are our schools. It states in the preamble of the declaration that we will “keep this Declaration constantly in mind”, that we “shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms”. It is our responsibility as a nation to uphold these promises that we have made to future generations.

Our educational system is failing our children. I never so much as saw the Universal Declaration of Human Rights until I was a junior in college. Not only had I not seen the declaration but I was never even taught about the concept of human rights, this is a travesty. How is it that I knew the histories of every great war and violent conflict but I had never been taught about my basic rights and freedoms? As a mother I am saddened and frustrated at our shortcomings as a society. I strongly believe that if we want a peaceful society we have to work for it and the best place to start is by teaching our children that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. It is only through teaching our children love and respect for all mankind that we can ever hope to obtain a peaceable world.

It is one of my greatest desires to change the way our children are being taught about the world they live in and their place in it. Getting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights taught in our schools is just my first step towards that goal. I believe that introducing the declaration will open a whole new door in our children's education and way of thinking that will forever change the way we view each other as human beings. This project was an amazing experience for me and I am now working with the Utah Board Of Education to make sure that human rights become a part of our children's core curriculum.


Dawson said...

I absolutely adore the UDHR and thanks to our terrible public school system, I quite literally have you to thank for introducing me to it's profound message and assertions. I absolutely applaud your efforts to incorporate the Declaration into our public school curriculum, a noble and honorable pursuit if ever there was one.

Finally, although Elenore Rosevelt was a universally accepted FLILF (First Lady I'd...), putting a picture of either of you holding the declaration up so close to one another truly puts her good looks to shame!