Marin Voice: Time for a new human rights agenda
Kimberly Weichel and Kirk Boyd, Marin Independent Journal
By Kimberly Weichel and Kirk Boyd, Marin Independent Journal
Dec. 10 is the 60th anniversary of Human Rights Day, a milestone in the movement to protect people's rights and freedoms around the world.
This U.N. Day has a special significance for Marin, since U.N. headquarters were originally planned for Strawberry Point, and there is a plaque in Muir Woods to honor the U.N. founders. Fortunately, we have a new president-elect, Barack Obama, to help us achieve the enforceable human rights that Eleanor Roosevelt, with others, envisioned with the creation of the Universal Declaration. Here is what our new president should do:
- Follow in the footsteps of Franklin Roosevelt.
The Universal Declaration enshrined the four freedoms that FDR described in an earlier State of the Union address: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Roosevelt stated that the Four Freedoms were intended for "everyone, in every country." President Obama should make a public statement that the Four Freedoms continue to be a valuable guide.
- Take a seat on the Human Rights Council.
The United States was a leader drafting the Universal Declaration. This is a proud piece of American history that harkens back to our Declaration of Independence and the principle that we stand for fundamental rights for all people. It was a breach of our culture and our heritage when the Bush administration left our seat on the body that created the Universal Declaration. It's time to ask our international community to let us rejoin them at the table.
- Make human rights enforceable.
We should plan to make the Universal Declaration enforceable. There is a project at the Berkeley law school, the 2048 Project, which is working to draft an international framework for enforceable human rights that can be in place by the year 2048, the 100th anniversary of the Universal Declaration. You can participate in the creation of this framework by going to the Web site at www.2048.berkeley.edu. Let your voice be heard.
- Ratify the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights.
Freedom from want includes economic and social rights such as education and health care. Obama said during a debate that "health care is a right," and it is. It's time for these rights to be put on an equal footing with rights such as free speech and freedom of religion. This is also a security issue. Abject poverty is fertile ground for despots. The U.S. should ratify the Covenant on Economic and Social Rights.
- Ratify the U.N. convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
This convention declares equal rights for women "in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field" and requires nations to take "all appropriate measures" to ensure equality. It was passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 and was approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, but there has not been a floor vote.
- Ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child:
This convention incorporates the full range of human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights - for children. It came into force on Sept. 2, 1990, and to date, 193 countries have ratified it, except the United States and Somalia. The U.S. has signed the convention, but not ratified it.
When asked about the Universal Declaration, Eleanor Roosevelt said "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." She was right. "Yes we can" also applies to enforceable human rights.
Kimberly Weichel of Tiburon is president of the United Nations Association of Marin and San Francisco and director of the Institute for Peacebuilding. Kirk Boyd of Mill Valley is executive director of the 2048 Project at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.12/10/2008