Day promotes human rights

by Ed Swaray

University students, staff and others will debate and discuss human rights around the world today at Coffman Union.

The program – which includes speakers, discussions and panels -is in observance of International Human Rights Day, which is today.

Vanna Chan, an organizer and a student at the University human rights program, said the activities will raise the public’s awareness about human rights abuses it might not otherwise know about.

“We want them to understand that they can make a difference by taking action,” she said. “This event will let them know of different ways they can get involved and take action on human rights.”

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in December 1948, defines human rights as, “the right to life, liberty, nationality, freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion, to work, to be educated and to take part in government.”

Those rights are abused in many countries, Chan said.

For example, a cultural practice in Ghana called “trokosi” requires people who do something wrong to appease the priest by giving him a virgin girl, usually a daughter or family member. Chan said other issues include the trafficking of women and children in Thailand and child labor in India.

The program begins at 1 p.m., and is divided into three sessions. The first session, an interfaith discussion panel, features representatives from Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and American Indian communities.

A brief discussion of their perspectives on human rights will be followed by a group discussion.

The next session, “Safe Space for Diversity,” will be an interactive role-play about refugees and immigrants in the United States.

The final session is an international dinner with human rights professionals who will share their experiences to inspire students to get involved.

Chan said each program is important in spreading human rights awareness. Human rights organizations will also distribute information and offer volunteer and internship opportunities.

Elsa Khwaja, a student organizer from the Muslim Student Human Rights Commission, said the day’s events will show that everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, can work together on human rights.

“Islamic human rights principles and universal human rights principles are similar,” she said.

Barbara Frey, University human rights program director, said this is the first time they are commemorating International Human Rights Day since the program was established in 2001 at the University.

She said the panelists’ discussions will help students understand human rights from different perspectives.

One panelist is from Cambodia and will talk about witnessing the genocide that happened there in the 1970s and 1980s.

Frey added that as the world has evolved, so have pertinent human rights issues.

“Some years back, we were focused on traditional civil and political rights,” she said. “But now we have to also address the issues of economic and social rights.”