To the editor:
People in the United States celebrate at least 14 holidays in the last four months of each year. These holidays range from nationally recognized days such as Labor Day and Thanksgiving to faith-specific days such as Hanukkah and Christmas. However, there is one day that is not included in these 14. It is not a national or religious holiday, but it does embrace many of the underlying principles of all others. That day is Dec. 10, National Human Rights Day.
On Dec. 10, 1942, the United Nations published The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration aims to proclaim a "common standard of achievement for all people and all nationsthat every individual and every organ of societyshall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms"
The preamble to this Declaration reads
"recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world,
disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
it is essentialthat human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
the people of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge"
At their gathering in September 2000, the United Nations reaffirmed their commitment in a Millennium Declaration. In that document they outline six fundamental values which are "indispensable foundations of a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world." Those are:
Freedom Men and woman have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression, or injustice.
Equality No individual and no nation must be denied the opportunity to benefit from development.
Solidarity Global challenges must be managed in a way that distributes the costs and burden fairly in accordance with basic principle of equity and social justice.
Tolerance Human beings must respect one another, in all their diversity of belief, culture, and language.
Respect for Nature Prudence must be shown in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the precepts of sustainable development.
Shared Responsibility Responsibility for managing worldwide economic and social development, as well as threats to international peace and security, must be shared among the nations of the world and should be exercised multilaterally.
Through these concepts and principles the United Nations is speaking of world-wide peace and prosperity by promoting human rights. Respecting and embracing the diversity of all peoples of this world. And they've done a good job at setting that foundation. However, that alone is not enough.
What is left is taking these principles and values as they apply on the world stage, and practicing them locally. The concepts of human rights will accomplish little by being only spoken. They must be practiced - and not only on an international or national stage, but locally - here in Marshall.
Our Governor, Tim Pawlenty, recently helped us bridge the gap between the United Nations proclamation and what we can do in Marshall. He declared Dec. 3, 2010, Human Rights Day in Minnesota, and issued a state Proclamation.
Our challenge in carrying the torch of human rights is partially illustrated by the obscurity of the Governor's proclamation call it a publicity issue. Nonetheless, the concepts are consistent.
This Proclamation states in part
"Minnesota enjoys a rich diversity of races, cultures, beliefs, and ways of life;
We celebrate the positive contributions of Minnesotans from all ethnic backgrounds, regardless of how long they have been here;
There is no place in Minnesota for discrimination and intolerance. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights strives to eliminate discrimination through public outreach, education, and enforcement of the Minnesota Human Rights Act;
We are committed to continue the struggle for human rights. State government plays a leading role in promoting human rights and respect, but cannot succeed without community-based partners;
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is sponsoring the 27th Annual Human Rights Day conference Dec. 3, 2010.
The Marshall Human Rights Commission is actively working to continue these efforts of increasing awareness, acceptance, and daily practicing of these fundamental human rights concepts. We have an opportunity to impact this directly by welcoming some of our newest Marshall residents, Karen refugees.
Karen refugees are from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Refugees, by definition, are people unable to remain in their home country because of war or persecution. The United Nations works with other countries, like the United States, to find homes and asylum for refugees. Refugees arrive in their new home country and have the same rights and privileges as the country's other citizens. What they may not have is an understanding of how things work in their new home.
We can help.
We can help them fill out paperwork when they apply for a driver's license.
We can be patient with them when they're trying to communicate in a language that's new to them.
We can treat them with dignity when they ask for assistance.
At its most basic level, that's what human rights is; treating everyone with the respect they deserve.
Human rights are worthy of holiday recognition, but it's certainly not something we can benefit from by acknowledging only once a year. And we can't leave it to the United Nations, governments, or even local commissions. It has to be practiced actively, by each of us every day. Here in our own town, our neighborhoods, and our homes.
The Marshall Human Rights Commission