The American Humanist Association is proud to support the United Nations (UN) and its efforts to bring about a global vision of human rights that can, when accepted and enlivened, support every nation and every citizen to live peaceful and graceful lives of liberty and justice.
Tomorrow, December 10, 2016, is World Human Rights Day, and while we should celebrate the “day,” we cannot afford to forget the other 364 days of the year, as global human rights are not selective in their value or meaning, nor are they limited to a day or time of year.
World Human Rights Day reminds us that there is much to be done in the United States and around to world to protect those who cannot voice or respond to perpetrated discrimination and violence caused by governments, vigilantes, and individual actors. In many instances, those who seek to divide people for subjective means and for totalitarian reasons do so around the globe without fear of retribution. Violence, or the threat of violence, perpetrated because of differences in a host of physical and demographic contrasts and dissimilarities is a blight on our collective humanity now and a danger for our human future.
The late Carl Sagan, when pointing to the now-famous photo of Earth taken by the Voyager spacecraft, showed that the world we’ve inherited and continue to harm others on is truly just a mote of dust in an endless night’s sky. Yet, for the sake of race, language differences, ethnicity, gender, faith or non-faith, age, labor and economic station, refugee status, or sexual orientation, we remain willing to stand by and focus on our minor differences rather than our major similarities.
As the current custodians of our planet, we need World Human Rights Day now more than ever. Perhaps one day we will look upon the need for such a day of remembrance the way we fondly remember typewriters or horse drawn carriages—or more seriously, the pain caused by war or the delineation of access to the planet’s resources by border or nation. World Human Rights Day in 2016 forces us to be present for others and to think, if even for a moment, what we do to our fellow human beings and how we might correct our actions, if we are brave enough and become less afraid to treat people equally and with human dignity.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein notes, “It’s time for each of you to step up for human rights. There is no action that is too small: wherever you are, you can make a difference. Together, let’s take a stand for more humanity.” And the time has certainly come for each of us to live the words printed not only of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, but also in our own Humanism and Its Aspirations. Both documents seek to heal past ills and build a more humane and rational future, a future where we are ever more reliant on reason and each other than on any temporary political, religious, or economic philosophy.
You certainly do not have to be a martyr for the cause of human rights in order to “be the change.” In fact, martyrdom isn’t even necessarily or preferential since in the end it removes your consciousness and physical ability to help in the struggle. However, there are many simple things you can do now and every day to stand up against all forms of discrimination. You can become a thought leader or advocate for others. You can give financially, at any level, to organizations that do human rights work. You can volunteer your time or a talent to a civil rights group. Or, if you are unable to do any of these suggestions, just be a fair-minded and good person to others. The world always needs human goodness, and it can be an unending natural resource of which you can be a sincere element and example to others.
The United Nations offers other suggestions as well. For instance you can:
• Read and share the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and also Humanism and Its Aspirations as well)
• Make a video concerning human rights and share it via social media
• Share your story or the story of another if their human rights have been violated
• If you see someone being harassed, bullied or ridiculed on the street, on public transportation, while shopping, or at school, stand with them
• Help someone whose voice is rarely heard and help them share their views
• Attend public human rights events or support them via the Internet or in other public and private domains
• Call on authorities, those informal, public, or elected leaders to uphold human rights in your and in other communities
For many, the more practical approach for advocating for human and civil rights is also a lot easier because it is often local and situational in nature. Be aware and challenge harmful stereotypes with facts. Speak out against intolerance and prejudice. Ensure the free access to information by supporting journalists, bloggers, and the right to speak and gather freely. Also, look at the human rights record of companies you do business with or shop at as a consumer, and make your decisions on how you wish to support these companies.
In the words of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, “Teach your children well.” Talk to your children, or if you don’t have kids, then speak to as many young people as possible about the importance of human rights and how they can make the world a safer and kinder planet.
Continue to dream of a world where human rights are vital and respected in every community. Work for these rights wherever and whenever possible. Stand for peace but remain rational. Know that standing for these ideas will be difficult in today’s climate of nationalistic zeal in many places, including, sadly, the United States of America.