Daily Archives: February 10, 2014

The Global Community Brought Together: What the Olympics is supposed to be about

The start of the 2014 Sochi Olympics have been plagued by bad press; from discriminatory restrictions, poor conditions, and huge spending. Unfortunately politics seem to be all people can talk about when discussing the games. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded the world, however, during a visit to the Olympic village, of what the Olympics is really supposed to be about: that the “athletes send a unified message that people and nations can put aside their differences…the power of sport (is) to promote human rights and unite people regardless of their age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

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On Friday, 3.5 billion people worldwide tuned in to see how Russia would leave its mark on Olympic history through an ambitious performance at Opening Ceremonies in the recently developed Fisht Olympic stadium. The Fish Olympic stadium stands at a height of 85m, roughly 25 stories, and has the capacity to hold 40,000 attendees. The ceremony lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes and featured three thousand performers, two thousand volunteers, and six thousand costumes. Viewers ‘traveled’ through Russia’s history, with ballet, breath-taking sets, and with 22.5 tons of fireworks set off, it is no wonder that the evening was a spectacular show!

imagesAnother festive feature of the Sochi Olympic winter games comes in the form of five adorable mascots. Three of the Mascots take the form of woodland creatures: the hare, the leopard, and the polar bear. The polar bear, although he loves speed-skating, skiing and curling, is the biggest fan of the bobsledding sporting events. The hare loves to sing and dance and she represents a universal love for the Olympic games. The leopard loves to snowboard, but is a rescuer at heart, representing the idea of a global commitment to help others. 

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The final two mascots come in the form of a pair and rarely separate themselves from one another. They are The Ray of Light and The Snowflake. According to the official Sochi 2014 Olympic games description, both the ray of light and the snowflake faced discrimination when they appeared on earth because they were different than human beings. However, quickly people came to see how genuine and kind both the ray of light and snowflake were and as a result grew to love them. Both mascots connected with human beings through skiing related events and represent the true personification of harmony as well as the need for an absence of discrimination around the globe.

As the games kick off there is a sense of pride all throughout Massachusetts as the state sending the 10th most athletes to the games (a total of 230 USA athletes will be competing). Athletes from MA can be seen throughout various sporting events such as bobsledding and figure skating. Six out of the ten athletes representing Massachusetts are a part of The US Hockey team competing in the games! Wow!

ImageNow that you know more about the Sochi Winter Olympic games, we here at UNA-GB hope that you are just as excited as we are to experience the coming together of cultures from all over the world for two weeks! We look forward to celebrating another successful winter Olympics filled with friendly competition and an underlying theme of teamwork on a global scale to combat issues that effect us all. As Ban Ki-moon said in this address “The Olympics (and Paralympics) have served to break down negative stereotypes and build positive attitudes;” let’s all celebrate what the Olympics is supposed to be: the global community brought together by the games and revel in the power of sport to unify people.

Keep up with Sochi news, medals, etc here.

Human Rights Day 2013: “Twenty years working for your rights

It’s time to celebrate human rights!

Human Rights Day was first declared on December 10, 1950, to celebrate and remind the world each year of the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year marks twenty years since the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was created to carry out the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action of 1993. The UN calls this list of goals the “the most significant human rights document produced in the past 40 years”.

In celebration of Human Rights Day, UNA-GB wants to help inform its readers about both the history of human rights and the difficulties that arise when trying to define and uphold basic rights for the entire world.

UN human Rights Day 2013

History of Human Rights Day

Lessons learned from the failure to stabilize relations between powerful countries after WWI (and the huge amount of death and destruction that ensued) inspired countries to create an international governmental body, the League of Nations. However, it wasn’t until the end of WWII that the stage was set for the institutionalization of our current system of international cooperation.  In 1945, the United Nations was born. One of the UN’s first tasks and top priorities was to create a universal set of standards to ensure that the human rights atrocities of the past decades would never again happen unchecked.

UN Declaration of Human Rights Drafters

Drafters of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, representing Lebanon, the USSR, China, France, the US, the UK, Australia, Chile, and Canada.

The 10th of December, 1948, is the date the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It outlines the basic human rights that should be guaranteed to individuals, starting at the most basic: the right to life and freedom. It describes the responsibility of society to ensure these rights, also including freedom of thought and speech, religion, association, and culture.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a major contributor to the commission that drafted the declaration. She had become an active voice for human rights domestically during her husband’s presidency, and was offered a position on the delegation to the UN after he died in office. After it was drafted, she vouched for the UNDHR to function as a moral call to action rather than a legal treaty. She wanted the language of the treaty to be easily understood by the general public, and hoped that it would rally the people to the world to take back their rights. Now, its provisions have been worked into most national constitutions since its creation, and have become accepted as international law.

Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt and The UNDHR

UN Day would be announced in 1950, and has served to remind the world about the gains and ground yet to cover each year in the realm of human rights.

Focus: the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Nepal

Indigenous peoples are  just one of many groups that are at high risk to become victims of human rights infractions. Indigenous people are defined in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant.

It is difficult to determine whether or not a group is “indigenous;” the name can refer to a minority group, a society that falls outside of the realm of nation-state politics, a tribe or nomadic people, or any other group that has deep ancestral ties. In a world that continuously becomes more interconnected, there are many implications for populations that are not under the complete jurisdiction of classic societal frameworks or governments. These peoples tend to be at high risk for exploitation, marginalization, and other human rights infractions.

The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities estimates that about 37% of the population of Nepal can be called indigenous peoples.

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Newa masked dance

Newa Art

Newa Art

The Newa people, who have been the focus of a UN fellowship that strives to learn about and advocate for indigenous rights, are believed to have had huge impacts on the culture, architecture, and history of Nepal today. Their language, Nepal Bhasa, was the official language of Nepal between the 14th and 18th centuries. One of the gravest problems concerning all of the indigenous people of Nepal is the threat of disintegration of their language and culture.

However, the issue of cultural preservation is complex. For example, another group in Nepal, the Dalits, belong (historically) to the lowest caste in of society (they and similar groups are traditionally known as “untouchables” in both Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan).  Discrimination against this group has undeniably caused human rights to be violated in many instances.  How does one honor culture while also ensuring that the wishes and rights of these groups are represented in the international governing structure?

Dalit bonded laborer

Dalit bonded laborer

Other challenges concerning the land that indigenous people live on and their status in society are common. They are often victims of biopiracy when ancient foods, medicines, etc. are discovered and patented by foreign companies. In Nepal and India, this is particularly a threat in the realm of medicinal plants.

Nepal was the first country in South Asia to ratify the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169, which deals with the rights of indigenous peoples. The UN has taken a number of strides to help recognize the unique needs of indigenous peoples. The United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007, and an Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was established within the Human Rights Council.

What You Can Do This Human Rights Day:

1) Celebrate the Life of Nelson Mandela:

Nelson Mandela

This year, celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, whose successes symbolize the difference that ethical leadership and activism can make when ensuring basic human rights are granted to a people. Mandela fought hard against discrimination and was deeply devoted to equality, and the outcomes of his battle against oppression were some of the greatest human rights successes of our time.

2) Get Informed:

  • This Human Rights Day, pick an indigenous group and learn about it! Strike up a conversation with friends and share what you know.
  • Check out this list of stories about some of the most prevalent Human Rights issues that face societies around the world.
  • Read about Rajani Maharjan’s work with the Newa People in Nepal here
  • Read the UN Declaration of Human Rights here

3) Recognize what we need to do next and remember how far we have come :

4) Start a Conversation

  • Take what you’ve learned and share it with a friend, classmate, colleague, or family member
  • Join the conversation with @UNrightswire on Twitter (#UNRightsAt20)
  • Like UN Human Rights on Facebook

Happy Human Rights Day!

The UN’s Role in the Sudan Referendum

This is a historic week in the Sudan, from January 9th- January 15th, two referenda are taking place: one where the people of Southern Sudan will either vote for unity or secession, and another in which the people of the Abyei Area, which straddles north and south boundaries, will vote to remain in the north or become part of the south.

The UN has played a vital role in aiding the preparation of the referenda. The UN Security Council established the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to support the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The UN has also assisted local authorities, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), in conducting the vote, by providing logistical support and technical advice, and administering a UN fund key donors have provided. UN peacekeepers, volunteers, and staff have played a vital role in delivering ballots to the voters that the SSRC has registered within the region in addition to the nations where many Sudanese have settled.

Massive efforts have been made in the last few weeks to ensure that every last voter in the more than four-million-strong electorate will have a ballot, no matter how remote and inaccessible the location. UNMIS used helicopters to distribute ballot papers and voting materials to voting centers in rural areas of the Sudan that are inaccessible by roads. To date, UNMIS has delivered materials for over four million voters in the region.

Ballots were designed to include the 85% of illiterate southerners in the vote.  The ballots contain a picture of two clasped hands stands for unity with the north, and a single raised hand means independence.

Beyond assisting in the distribution and design of voting materials UN Police have trained 17,600 police officers in southern Sudan and 4,500 in the north to secure the polls.  A UN Panel has also been tasked to monitor the referendum with a three member team that will travel throughout the country throughout the duration of the voting period.

You can read more about the UN’s role in the referendum here! And keep track of how the voting goes – the world is watching and hoping for peace in Sudan.

-Alex.

Are you a human rights defender?

“When we work to secure human rights, we are working to protect the experiences that make life meaningful, to preserve each person’s ability to fulfill his or her God-given potential – the potential within every person to learn, discover and embrace the world around them.”

Today we celebrate Human Rights Day, which honors the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights.

This year’s theme recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination.

As Secretary General Ban Ki Moon says, “Laws to protect and promote human rights are indispensable. But quite often, progress comes down to people… courageous women and men… striving to protect their own rights and the rights of others… determined to make rights real in people’s lives.  It is these human rights defenders to whom we dedicate this year’s observance of Human Rights Day.”

You can watch the Secretary General’s message in its entirety here, as well as take a quiz to see how well you know your human rights defenders.

What will you do to protect and uphold human rights today?

If you’re in Boston, we invite you to join us today at Wheelock College for the Human Rights Day Luncheon to meet some inspiring human rights defenders!  This year’s luncheon is focused on how sports can be used to promote human rights and fight the impact of poverty and inequity on young people.

Dr. Auma Obama, CARE USA’s Sports for Social Change Initiative Technical Advisor, will be delivering the keynote address. Following Dr. Obama’s address there will be a panelist discussion that features the leading experts in sports and human rights development, including Eli Wolff, Sports and Human Rights Fellow at Brown University, Diana Cutaia, Wheelock Director of Athletics and Sports-Based Initiatives, and Pharlone Toussaint, SPARK The Truth Co-Founder.  The discussion will be followed by lunch and a networking reception.

We hope to see you today!  Find Directions Here.

-Alex