Equal Human Rights http://hrcolumbia.org Rights given by law Tue, 16 Jan 2018 22:04:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 http://hrcolumbia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/MLK-Human-Rights-Icon.png Equal Human Rights http://hrcolumbia.org 32 32 Globalizing the Local: Activism to Promote Human Rights in the United States http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/globalizing-the-local-activism-to-promote-human-rights-in-the-united-states/ http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/globalizing-the-local-activism-to-promote-human-rights-in-the-united-states/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 15:31:19 +0000 http://hrcolumbia.org/?p=39 In the United States today, human rights activists are working to eliminate abuses taking place within our borders, such as racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, unequal access to quality education or health care, and the exploitation of low-income or migrant workers. Simultaneously, activists around the world are engaging in comparable struggles to eliminate human rights violations in their countries. Collectively, there are hundreds of thousands of activists around the world advocating for the recognition and protection of human rights.

Since the post-World War II period, an international system of institutions and procedures has evolved to support efforts to put an end to human rights violations. Yet many U.S. activists and concerned citizens are not aware of this system and have not used the tools it offers to support their work. While it takes considerable effort to participate in the system, the benefits of doing so can be substantial. In situations where human rights abuses cross national borders, broadening the movement to combat such violations strengthens the work of activists everywhere and enables them to leverage additional resources and support. U.S. organizations can also learn lessons from other advocates who have tackled the same abuses in their countries. By meeting and working with these advocates, U.S. activists can seek to replicate their successful experiences and avoid efforts that have failed.

Another advantage of “going global” is that, by raising the awareness of the international community to the serious human rights problems in the United States, activist organizations can enlist political support from other influential actors and from countries allied with the U.S. government. Often, the external scrutiny of the international community on a particular human rights abuse in the U.S. can push the government to adopt legal reforms or policy changes more quickly.

Perhaps most importantly, the international human rights system offers protection of rights that are not recognized under domestic laws. The international human rights treaties expand the legal framework available to U.S. activists and present new venues for bringing forward cases or petitions. In particular, economic, social and cultural rights – such as the right to education and the right to an adequate standard of living – are not recognized under U.S. law. When U.S. activists look to the international arena, they can identify concrete obligations of the U.S. government to protect these rights, even if domestic laws have not yet recognized them.

What Is the International Human Rights System?

Fundamental human rights were first explicitly protected by an international agreement in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html). Drafted under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt and championed by the U.S. government, the UDHR outlines the full range of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The document guarantees each person’s right to equal protection under the law, to freedom of movement, to marry and choose one’s spouse, to freedom of opinion and religion, to equal pay for equal work, and to education and an adequate standard of living.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, several other international agreements and conventions have elaborated upon the obligations of governments to protect these rights. In particular, the United Nations has adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, along with several other agreements.

To ensure that the rights identified in the international agreements are protected and promoted by all countries, an international human rights system has developed, offering a diverse array of procedures to human rights activists. Composed of regional and global institutions and structures, the international human rights system includes mechanisms for monitoring human rights abuses, investigating claims of human rights violations, and sanctioning governments for violating their obligations. On rare occasions, the international community has even approved the use of force to stop gross violations of human rights, e.g., the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda and East Timor.

Although the international human rights system is complex, U.S activists can utilize the following key institutions and mechanisms to enhance their advocacy efforts.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the key staff person responsible for encouraging all member states of the United Nations to protect and promote human rights around the world. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides staffing and support to the different UN agencies and bodies that address human rights concerns, particularly the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and the international treaty-monitoring committees. The Office also provides technical assistance to governments on how to meet their human rights obligations and implements field operations in those countries where human rights abuses have raised particular concern.

United Nations Human Rights Bodies

The UN Commission on Human Rights, composed of 53 member states, meets annually to consider a range of human rights concerns and to make recommendations to governments regarding stopping abuses. The Commission is assisted in its work by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which consists of 23 experts who undertake studies of particular human rights problems, a number of working groups, and a network of individual experts mandated to report on specific issues. Among these experts are the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, and the Special Rapporteur on Racism. Each of these individuals prepares an annual report on human rights abuses within her or his mandate, including specific cases from different countries around the world.

International Treaty Bodies

There are several United Nations human rights treaties that aim to provide increased protection to particularly vulnerable groups or against particularly gross violations. Today there are seven core human rights treaties, each of which is monitored by a committee or “treaty monitoring body.” Each treaty body is composed of independent experts of recognized competence in the field who are elected by states that are party to the particular treaty. Countries that have ratified a particular treaty must submit regular reports to the relevant committee on their implementation of the treaty’s obligations. Often, the treaty committees seek information from non-governmental organizations and human rights activists from each country as well as from the government, in order to consider a diversity of views.

Regional Human Rights Organizations

At the regional level, various governments have created institutions to protect and promote human rights. For example, the African Union offers different venues for addressing human rights concerns within the African continent. The Organization of American States established the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to provide redress to victims of human rights abuses. And the European Union has ratified several regional human rights treaties, under which human rights abuses can be addressed by the European Court of Justice or reviewed by the European Ombudsman.

The U.S. Government and the International Human Rights System

The U.S. government has accepted human rights obligations by ratifying several of the core human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The U.S. has also been a member state of the UN Commission on Human Rights for nearly every year of its existence. (The U.S. lost its seat on the Commission for the first time in 2002 but regained it in 2003.) The U.S. is an active member of the Organization of American States and has nominated experts to sit on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Most importantly, the U.S. has given credibility and legitimacy to the international human rights system by urging other governments to meet their obligations and by criticizing those governments who systematically abuse the rights of people within their borders.

Case Studies: U.S. Organizations Using the International Human Rights System

Many U.S. organizations have turned to the international human rights system to support their advocacy work domestically. The following examples demonstrate some of the advantages and opportunities offered by going global.

National Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty

Established in 1976, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) is the oldest and only national organization in the United States devoted to abolishing capital punishment. NCADP provides information, seeks to influence public policy, and mobilizes a public constituency to reject the use of the death penalty anywhere in the country. To accomplish its mission, NCADP integrated international human rights advocacy into its work starting in 1999. The organization started participating in the UN Commission on Human Rights and then became active in the preparations for the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, documenting the significant racial disparities that exist at both the state and federal levels of the U.S. criminal justice system. Also in 2001, NCADP participated in a briefing of the members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was reviewing the U.S. government’s report on its implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). (The U.S. government ratified the ICERD in 1994.) NCADP has also actively lobbied the European Commission, where the U.S. government has an official observer status, to support its campaign and to intervene with the U.S. government.

The impact of NCADP’s efforts can be seen in the growing international campaign to stop the death penalty in the United States. Today, NCADP has been joined by affiliates in countries as diverse as Botswana, Japan and France; some of these organizations are working specifically to stop the death penalty in the U.S. Many foreign government officials have also raised concerns about the U.S. practice of capital punishment, including representatives of Mexico, Germany and the European Union. NCADP credits international attention to the issue of the death penalty in the U.S. for stopping particular executions from taking place. Even some of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices have recently emphasized the importance of considering international law in U.S. jurisprudence. But the greatest success of international advocacy has been its influence on U.S. public opinion, which NCADP believes is the most important impact over the long term.

Brian Roberts, the Interim Executive Director of NCADP, and Jotaka Eaddy, who leads NCADP’s international advocacy work, offer the following advice to other U.S. groups interested in working in the international human rights system: “The first thing is research, research, research,” says Jotaka. “You have to be prepared and it helps to partner with an experienced organization.” Brian adds, “It’s worth the expense and difficulties of attending international meetings in order to be in a room with hundreds of government representatives who are willing to listen to you.” Both activists encourage other groups to engage the international system, emphasizing that it may appear daunting at first but that you can reach many important people through the process.

Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign

The Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign is a national initiative led by poor and homeless women, men and children of all races to raise the issue of poverty as a human rights violation in the United States. Led by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), the Campaign has more than 35 organizational members, all representing poor and homeless people fighting to end poverty across the U.S. The Campaign was launched in June 1997 by the “March for Our Lives,” which had representatives of poor families marching from Philadelphia to New York City to present a petition to the United Nations charging the U.S. government with violating the economic and social rights of the poor. Since the launch of the Campaign, members have actively engaged in several other activities to bring attention to the ongoing violations of economic and social rights faced by their communities.

In an interview on February 6, 2004, Cheri Honkala, founder of KWRU and national organizer of the Campaign, commented on why the organization focused its advocacy on the United Nations. “We had to go to the international community. The mainstream media offers little or no voice to poor and homeless families; we didn’t have money for billboards or ads in newspapers or publications. We had to break our isolation and bring the attention of the international community to the poor in the U.S. We are starting from a serious disadvantage – not only are the poor suffering but we are invisible to the broader public. If a majority of Americans knew what was happening in their backyard, we would be able to put an end to homelessness and hunger. We need the international community to bring visibility to these issues.”

The KWRU and Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign started their international work by taking a delegation of poor people from the United States to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. For the first time, poor and homeless Americans spoke for themselves before the international body, rather than having someone else describe their situation. After this effort, KWRU received inquiries from around the world along with many requests to speak out on these issues to other audiences.

On October 1, 1999, the Campaign along with several other individuals and organizations filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), charging the U.S. government with violating a variety of fundamental human rights including the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, the right to education, and the right to social security. The petition specifically addresses the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 or “welfare reform” legislation, which has resulted in many harmful changes to the conditions of the poor across the United States. (A copy of the petition can be found at http://www.kwru.org/updates/IACpetition.pdf). While the Campaign has not yet won a decision on its petition to the IACHR, it is exploring other avenues for increasing international pressure on the U.S. government in the area of economic and social rights.

Cheri Honkala credits the international advocacy of KWRU and the Campaign with mobilizing a new constituency in the United States demanding protection of economic and social rights for all. “To be poor is to be a criminal in the United States. Because other parts of the world still have social welfare systems [e.g. Europe, Canada], it is refreshing to our community to hear other people say ‘you do have a right to health care!’ We deserve these basic human rights, and we need the U.S. [government] to see that.”

Today, the member organizations of the Poor People’s Economic Rights Campaign are demanding that the government take action to protect the human rights of poor people. This terminology and approach has been empowering for the people participating in the campaign. Rather than see the issue as a question of charity for the poor, the members of the Campaign are talking about their right to an adequate standard of living – something recognized around the world and in international legal agreements – and the government’s obligation to promote that right. As Cheri says to those U.S. groups interested in using the international human rights system, “Raise your expectations about what you want. It’s hard to fight for human rights if you don’t believe you deserve them. We have to reshape the debate – it is possible.”

Challenges to Working at the International Level

Activists interested in participating in the international human rights system face certain hurdles. Significant obstacles may include demands on financial and staffing resources. To participate at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, for example, an activist must travel to Geneva, Switzerland, for the annual session that lasts six weeks. While few human rights activists can afford to stay throughout the entire session, even participating for one to two weeks can be quite expensive. It also takes time to learn how to maneuver within the UN system and how to lobby governments to support one’s cause. Often, activists require training and may not be very effective the first time attending in the forum. In addition, the United Nations system and some regional organizations require official accreditation to participate in the institutional meetings. The accreditation process can be complicated and take a few years to complete, which discourages many smaller, grassroots organizations from applying.

Beyond these logistical problems are ideological and philosophical battles to be waged between those who promote a view of “U.S. exceptionalism” and those who believe in universal adherence to the same standards. “Exceptionalists” argue that the U.S. should not be held accountable to the same standards as the rest of the international community, that the U.S. should be able to pick and choose which international standards it will uphold. These proponents have dominated U.S. government decision-making over the last few years, particularly in policies related to the war on terrorism. (For example, the U.S. has defended its decision to detain accused terrorists without due process or other standard international legal protections.) Other human rights activists reject such policies and work towards fostering broader public demand for the protection of all human rights for all people.

Finally, another serious challenge is the slow pace of progress. While there are success stories of particular cases that have been resolved through international scrutiny or legal review, many of these examples took years to achieve, and there are many others still working their way through the process. The international community rarely acts quickly to address a problem, preferring instead to monitor a problem and encourage governments to initiate reforms themselves. But effective activists can find constructive ways to use international attention to raise the visibility of the problem and push for change at home.

Despite these challenges, more U.S. organizations and advocates are entering the international arena each year. There are programs offering training to U.S. activists on how to use the UN human rights system, and more donors are committing resources to supporting U.S. participation in the international forum. With all of these different forms of support, it is an excellent time for U.S. activists to explore the opportunities for integrating international human rights advocacy into their ongoing work.

For More Information

For more information on using the international human rights system, please contact Global Rights – Partners for Justice (www.globalrights.org). Our U.S. program offers information, technical assistance, training materials and other resources for U.S. groups eager to join the international human rights movement. Email us at USRacism@globalrights.org or call us at 1-202-822-4600.

Other organizations to contact:

American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/

Amnesty International USA, www.amnestyusa.org/

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, www.civilrights.org/index.html

U.S. Human Rights Network, www.ushrnetwork.org

http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/globalizing-the-local-activism-to-promote-human-rights-in-the-united-states/feed/ 0
Talks About Talks – Facilitating Difficult Discussions http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/talks-about-talks-facilitating-difficult-discussions/ http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/talks-about-talks-facilitating-difficult-discussions/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 15:21:52 +0000 http://hrcolumbia.org/?p=37 This spring marks the tenth anniversary of democracy in South Africa. Long before 1994, however, South Africans from many sides of the conflict were coming together to talk to each other about the new political realities of post-apartheid South Africa, and to talk about forging new relationships. These “talks about talks,” a term used to refer to the period of talking that occurs before formal negotiations, paved the way for the transition from apartheid to democracy. Importantly, the “talks about talks” did not just take place between high-level leaders. It also was the work of grass roots activists, students, parents, schoolteachers, religious leaders, and many other South Africans from diverse backgrounds. They found ways – in the most dire conditions – to cross boundaries and begin to talk to each other.

In any part of the world, before action there is the discussion. In Northern Ireland, there are groups made up of people from all sides of the conflict that have met in each other’s living rooms for years to discuss ways peace can happen. They meet in defiance of the conflict. In the former Yugoslavia, most schools have re-segregated, but a school in Vukovar is trying to challenge these separations. In Rwanda there has been a full moratorium on history education since the 1994 genocide. But in 2004, scholars, teachers, the ministry of education representatives, students, parents and consultants have begun to meet to talk about bringing history back into the curriculum. In South Africa, students are learning about apartheid and human rights as part of their curriculum for the first time. In classrooms around the U.S., students are asking their teachers about topics in the headlines such as gay marriage, the war in Iraq, and the elections.

Talking is not the solution for any of the issues listed above, but it is a strategy – a necessary one if we are to begin to imagine how peace, freedom and justice can prevail. In facilitating discussions around difficult subjects, there are a number of strategies that can help make the talk more productive. A discussion can lead to many things: to the breakdown of stereotypes and prejudices; to the formation of alliances; to the decision to work on a shared project; and to more discussions. However, while a facilitator comes to a discussion having thought about his or her goals, it is also important to think about the group’s goals for the discussion. In some situations, like several of those listed above, “just” getting people in the room together and creating a safe space for exchange is a huge step. Critical discussion is not a modest goal.

Recently I met with facilitators to train them to lead discussions around the exhibition Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. This exhibition of photographs of lynchings in the South between 1890 and 1930 confronts audiences with brutal images from a tragic episode in American history. I began with deceptively simple “why” questions: Why are you using this topic to address particular issues? Why are you using a discussion format? Then the group moved on to address some questions that began with “what:” What do you hope to achieve within the course of the discussion? What are your personal goals vis à vis the goals of your organization? What role(s) do you plan to play in these discussions? What do you hope participants will leave with?

Before leading public discussions, taking time to reflect on these issues alone and then with a partner or a community of facilitators is critical. It is helpful to record in a journal your inner dialogue prompted by the questions listed above. Continue to write in the journal before and after your facilitation sessions.

Documentary films offer us valuable tools that make it easier to initiate discussions around difficult subjects. One advantage of film is that it represents a distillation of ideas, images and perspectives. The filmmakers have worked for perhaps years on the project. They have gone through hundreds of hours of footage. The result is a compelling narrative that presents the essential issues at stake. A second advantage occurs during the viewing process. People are able to use the time during a screening to reflect on the ideas and emotions that are raised for them. They can take the time to contemplate and articulate their thoughts before discussing them in a group. After a screening, a facilitator has an opportunity to use the images and stories presented in the film as starting points for initiating a constructive discussion around a controversial topic.

Before the participants arrive to a viewing and discussion session, look at the space the group will use. To inspire discussion, help people to see each other by putting the chairs in a circle. If the venue is a theatre setting, be prepared to ask people to turn around in their seats and/or to use the aisles, stage and extra space for discussion. Also consider where you will stand.

With a film screening, you can begin with a brief introduction to the film and perhaps a question to the participants to consider as they view the film. Following the screening, give people some time for silent reflection. Then, an excellent way to begin a discussion is to establish a “contract.” Acknowledge the fact that the discussion will be difficult, that some people will feel threatened, but that everyone is to feel safe. The goal is not to make everyone feel comfortable – that is not possible or perhaps even desirable. The challenge is how to help people feel uncomfortable but safe, how you develop a “safe space for being unsafe.” Themba Lonzi, a facilitator for the Institute for the Healing of Memories in Cape Town, South Africa, calls it a “community commitment.” He asks participants to reflect on ways they want to act toward each other, and values they hope to uphold for their community during the discussion.

The “contract” for the discussion should be a living document for your group. It is a tool of participation and empowerment. The group not only contributes to developing it, they have the capacity to draw upon it to keep the discussion on track, productive and safe. The facilitator should make sure that the contract does not languish once the group gets going. The facilitator models behavior for the group by his or her conduct as well as through reminders to participants to follow the rules of the contract. If there is not time to develop a community contract, then be prepared to list some communal values that you will uphold as a facilitator. These might include asking participants to use “I” statements instead of making generalizations; avoid “one on one” discussions (including between a facilitator and a participant); remember to disagree with the idea, not the person; avoid interrupting someone, and acknowledge that these “rules” will be difficult to maintain in a heated moment. Also make the point that the entire group is responsible for making the group work; it is not just the job of the facilitator.

Following the formulation of the contract, give people a chance to talk in small groups about the issue before the larger group discusses the topic. Begin by asking people individually to reflect on and write down what brought them to the discussion and what they hope to achieve (make sure you have paper and pens available). Then, break them into pairs, asking them to introduce themselves to someone they do not know and share some of what they have written. Hearing the ensuing buzz in the room is a reminder that people have a lot to say to each other. The facilitator can circulate and listen in with various groups. After a few minutes, the group can be brought back together and asked for some feedback about what they discussed in the smaller groups.

The moment the larger group re-convenes is a crucial moment in facilitating a successful discussion. There are many ways to begin and it is important to be clear about the goals for the direction of the discussion. Consider, for example, making eye contact with a pair that talked about some of the issues you want to raise. The eye contact might inspire the pair to share their comments. A facilitator also needs to be flexible – the pairs might raise issues not anticipated. It is important to be willing to change a pre-planned agenda to accommodate an issue that might be more relevant to participants than the issues you had intended to cover.

It is essential that you consider the question, “what kind of facilitator do I want to be?” If you really want a discussion and not a lecture, then your voice should not dominate. There should be moments when only the participants are heard and the facilitator nods or gestures to encourage participation. Sometimes facilitators fall into the trap of feeling like they have to respond to each comment; this is not desirable. Allow people to talk to each other. At the same time, you do not want to be “the facilitator that wasn’t” by being too passive. You also might want to consider the advantages of having two facilitators. A team of two can demonstrate the diverse perspectives and approaches to an issue since each facilitator will have their own style and ideas.

A facilitator is there to provide direction, to move the group through difficult junctures and keep them on the issue when they become sidetracked. As a facilitator, you want to make sure that you have resources to ground you in a particular conversation. The films in this and other National Video Resources collections are designed to do that. A clip from a film can be a powerful way to begin a conversation. Have several clips on hand that you can turn to in order to illustrate a point, push a conversation in a particular direction, or raise an issue. If you are showing an entire film, make sure that you allow time at the end for the steps above. Plunging straight into the discussion will favor those participants who are quickest on their feet or the most vocal. You probably will not have much of a discussion if they take over. Ideally, from the particular, your participants will make connections. How comfortable are you with these connections? What about when they are “off-track” from your perspective? For example, in the work around the lynching exhibition, participants would often raise the murder of Matthew Shepherd, the gay youth who was murdered and left to die in the middle of a field. For some participants this connection was important because it shed light on patterns of discrimination and hate crimes. For others, the connection was a diversion, taking participants off the subject of race and racial violence. Reflect on the types of connections that participants might make and anticipate the range of topics that might be explored while keeping the discussion on-track.

Can you make space for a discussion that becomes heated? How will you respond when someone cries or when voices are raised? Difficult conversations contain rocky moments. Your success as a facilitator is not determined by your ability to prevent these tensions. Some facilitators resort to lecture in order to maintain control of the group. Others choose to take an intellectual route, suggesting that the topic is for the head, not the heart. Still others let the group take over. Think of the tools you have at your disposal to help a group work through a difficult moment in a discussion: time to be quiet, to write silently or to reflect; pairing or putting people in small groups; creating graffiti boards on the walls (put paper on the walls and provide markers), then allow participants, in silence, to continue the conversation; screening a film clip that expresses another voice or perspective. All these actions can help you to refocus the conversation or go deeper when it seems too raw.

If your participants are only coming together this one time, then make sure that they have time at the end to reflect on how they might integrate this experience into their lives. The people who attended Without Sanctuary discussions sometimes talked about forming interracial discussion groups at their places of worship, joining a group such as the NAACP or investing in history books so that they could continue to learn. Give your participants time to think about what they can do. After a difficult discussion, they might feel energized and awakened to new issues; they might also feel tired, emotionally overwhelmed and angry. In closing a difficult discussion, acknowledge the challenges but offer concrete ways to get involved – and encourage the group to share their ideas for action as a positive conclusion to the event.

If you are facilitating alone, take a few moments after everyone has left and reflect on what happened. Write about what you heard and what you did not hear. Reflect on the resources you used and the discussions they inspired. Think about what you did that worked and what needs more work. If you facilitated with a partner, do this together but begin by reflecting on your own.

There are not many places for a group of people who do not know each other to meet together and examine critical issues. People want to talk about difficult subjects. They want to use the dialogue to think about ways that they and their community might make a difference, but often people do not know how to begin discussions. In further developing your skills as a facilitator, you are providing a safe place for dialogue, an invaluable gift to your community.

http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/talks-about-talks-facilitating-difficult-discussions/feed/ 0
Because We’re All Global Citizens Now http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/because-were-all-global-citizens-now/ http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/because-were-all-global-citizens-now/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 15:15:16 +0000 http://hrcolumbia.org/?p=32 The films in the Human Rights Video Collection cover a range of human rights abuses visited upon populations around the globe today. By attending public screenings of these documentaries and participating in post-screening discussions, we are better able to make connections between our lives and the lives of people who suffer human rights abuses in the U.S. and abroad. And by making these connections, we can better support and advocate for universal human rights standards for all the people of the world.

The attacks on September 11 were traumatic for many Americans. One result of this immediate experience of pain, loss and violation is that now many Americans find it easier to empathize with the suffering of others, especially those whose lives are marked by sustained combat and conflict. In a way, the mindset that gives rise to human rights advocacy is akin to that of the firefighter.

A firefighter does not ask the age, color, ethnicity or class of the people in a burning building. Firefighters save lives, indiscriminately. Implicit in their calling is the belief that all life matters; all lives are worth saving. And valuing life is what human rights work is about, too. The basic tenet of a human rights orientation is the belief that all human beings deserve fundamental rights and opportunities.

Some of the videos bring human rights issues home to U.S. communities, stressing that all societies are a part of the struggle for human rights. As the American relatives of the churchwomen murdered in El Salvador in 1980 sought justice, they found to their dismay that a measure of responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones laid with their own government. Justice and the Generals reveals how the U.S. trained El Salvador’s military leaders while ignoring their gross human rights abuses.

In Bombies we learn that cluster bombs dropped decades ago by the U.S. in Laos during the Vietnam War are maiming and killing children today who think the baseball-size bombs are toys. Behind the Labels: Garment Workers on US Saipan shows how the “Made in the U.S.” label can conceal that Chinese and Filipina women are exploited in a U.S. territory exempt from labor and immigration laws. Finally, Well Founded Fear peers behind the scenes at the Immigration and Naturalization Services, documenting the process refugees undergo when they are seeking asylum in the U.S., as well as the tough decisions immigration officials must make in recommending or denying asylum,The collection takes viewers to different continents. In the film State of Denial, we meet resilient AIDS activists in South Africa organizing to save their own lives and those of their fellow citizens, with little government support.

We see women, beaten and raped in Bosnia by people who were once neighbors, find the courage to speak up about their experiences at an international tribunal in Calling the Ghosts. In Long Night’s Journey into Day, we see concerned South Africans struggling for truth, reconciliation and healing in their post-apartheid society.

These videos also expand our understanding of what human rights encompass. In addition to genocide, torture, or rape as an act of war, the United Nations recognizes an array of economic, social and cultural rights. Going to School considers the educational rights and opportunities for children with disabilities.

Life and Debt takes viewers to Jamaica where behind the façade of the tourist industry, the domestic economy operates within the debilitating parameters dictated by various international financial institutions. The State of Denial prompts us to consider healthcare as a fundamental human right. Common to these diverse people and communities is an activism born of grief and pain, a commitment to save lives, a respect for the dignity of all human beings and ultimately, a principled and courageous approach to life in the face of great odds.For most of this country’s history, certain Americans have been deprived of their human rights because of the color of their skin.

This is part of the nation’s legacy of slavery and conquest. One arena where this violation is played out is the criminal justice system. Incarceration rates for people of color, and the excessive use of force against people of color by police departments in cities, towns and on the nation’s highways, are major areas of concern.

In Every Mother’s Son we see the mothers of men wrongfully killed by the N.Y.C. Police Department take comfort in each other’s grief and seek justice and accountability from the criminal justice system. Books Not Bar documents the activism of young people across the country seeking to change policies that criminalize rather than educate youth-at-risk.

Much of what stands in the way of human rights advocacy is apathy, a lack of information, or the failure of groups to resolve their differences. Promise illustrates this as it documents the lives of seven children in the Middle East to heart-wrenching effect. Each child struggles to find words to explain the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Through their eyes, we see the seemingly irreconcilable rifts of the adult world. The filmmakers suggest that a path to reconciliation lies in personal contact between Palestinians and Israelis wherein they directly address and seek to understand each other.

As these videos reveal, we inhabit a world that is interconnected in a multiplicity of ways – we are all global citizens now. It is necessary to grasp this evolving reality if we are to take effective action towards creating a more equitable world for us all. Media is a useful tool to facilitate the conversations that befit a responsible and compassionate global citizenry.

http://hrcolumbia.org/essays/because-were-all-global-citizens-now/feed/ 0