Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Many Issues, Campaigns Surface on Human Rights Day 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, November 28 / 10

Zack Gross

The United Nations declared the International Day of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 and unveiled a Declaration that comprehensively described the rights that nation states should safeguard for the benefit of all their citizens. 

Sixty-two years later, Human Rights Day is still marked around the world with releases of postage stamps, hosting of major conferences, letter-writing and educational campaigns and many other efforts to make our world more safe and just.

Human rights are a broad topic and many groups who are campaigning for better treatment not only have December 10th as a focal point, but also have their own designated day. 

For instance, the right of women to equality with men around the world is a key issue and there is a specific International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8. 

We may think of the women’s movement as prominent in Canada and the West, but our country actually lags behind many developing nations in percentage of elected officials who are women. 

Here and overseas, many women face domestic physical abuse, lower status in traditional cultures, and a deficit in land ownership, personal freedom and wages.

The rights of people with disabilities have risen to prominence more recently with a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities passing at the UN on December 13, 2006.  Canada ratified the UN document in March of this year. 

December 3 is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.  While many Western countries are tackling the challenges that people with disabilities face, around the world a lack of resources makes it much more difficult for these people to get an education, find a job, get needed prosthetics, wheel chairs, computer programs and Braille books, and even find acceptance in their communities. 

The percentage of people with disabilities in the population is much higher in developing countries, due to poverty, disease and conflict.

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is held on March 21 each year, marked by anti-racism events, cultural celebrations and school programs. 

While the world is shrinking in many ways and populations in every country are becoming more diverse, this is not an indication of decreased racism, but has become a catalyst for new campaigns against immigration and multiculturalism, related to insecurities around economic issues, mixing of cultures and fear of strangers (xenophobia). 

Since 9-11, Muslims have particularly found themselves discriminated against, but many minority and marginalized groups find it hard to secure housing, employment and respect.

Amnesty International focuses on International Human Rights Day, December 10, to hold its largest fundraising and letter-writing campaign of the year. 

It aims to raise thousands of dollars and have its members send out thousands of letters defending the rights of people imprisoned for political reasons rather than crimes committed. 

AI received a great boost recently when Aung San Suu Many Issues, Campaigns Surface on Human Rights DayMany Issues, Campaigns Surface on Human Rights Day, the legitimate political leader of her country and a global symbol of democracy, was released from house arrest by the military junta in Burma after her latest detention of seven years. 

It is said that four people are released from wrongful imprisonment every day due to the efforts of Amnesty International. 

AI also speaks out on a range of human rights issues, from the plight of aboriginal peoples around the world to the use of the death penalty.

The United Nations Associations which exist around the world as national organizations that support the central United Nations Organization headquartered in New York are also active throughout the year and focus on human rights every December 10.  In Winnipeg, which hosts the only remaining UN local group in Manitoba (Brandon had a chapter associated with Brandon University until about ten years ago) its annual high school conference is planned for Friday, December 10 at the University of Winnipeg.
The Manitoba Association for Rights & Liberties (MARL) is another prominent organization working to support the UN Declaration and our own Manitoba human rights legislation. 

A major effort this venerable group is currently undertaking is establishing rights groups in high schools around the province through its Youth Leadership Program.  It also produces a “tool kit” for teachers to use in their classrooms.

With all the effort being put into human rights education and advocacy, there is still much to be done.  International Human Rights Day, December 10, is an opportunity to participate in an initiative specifically related to the Declaration, but your participation is needed year-round to ensure that everyone receives fair and unbiased treatment in all aspects of life. 

This is a lofty goal that deserves our attention.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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