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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.

534px-Nyetamaru_Ajima_masked_dance

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!

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Announcing our 2012 UN Day Luncheon!

UNA-GB is pleased to announce our upcoming 2012 UN Day Luncheon; the signature event will take place on Monday, Oct 29th at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. United Nations Day celebrates the Anniversary of the UN’s founding in 1945.  According to the UN, it should be an occasion for “governments and peoples to reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter”.  Since 2000, UNA-GB has celebrated the international holiday with our annual luncheon, gathering leaders from the business and academic communities in the Greater Boston area for an engaging dialogue on world affairs and an opportunity to network with other globally conscious individuals and organizations. Funds raised at the UN Day Luncheon directly support UNA-GB’s community events and classroom-based programs.

This year’s luncheon will focus on Brazil, a formidable leader in global affairs. Brazil represents the largest national economy in Latin America, just finished a 2 year term on the UN Security Council, hosted the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June (Rio+20), and will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Brazil is not only an international powerhouse but also ever-present in the greater Boston community. Massachusetts boasts one of the highest populations of Brazilian immigrants in the nation with Framingham having the highest concentration of Brazilians in the state. The Commonwealth has seen an explosion of Brazilian-owned businesses, particularly in Allston-Brighton, in the last ten years from manufacturing, to culinary and financial services.

Brazil has also become more interested in doing business in Massachusetts and the Patrick administration has reciprocated this interest through their trade mission in late 2011. Governor Patrick along with representatives from Mass-based companies toured Brazil in an effort to establish and strengthen business partnerships in one of the world’s fastest growing markets. Additionally, when President Dilma Rousseff visited the US in 2011, she made two stops: Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill. This fall’s luncheon will be the perfect opportunity to bridge Brazil and Boston, global and local, as we celebrate Brazil’s influence in the Commonwealth and look forward to an even stronger relationship between the two.

UNA-GB is thrilled to welcome our keynote speaker for the afternoon, Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Brazil’s permanent representative to the UN. AmbassadorViotti has worked in the foreign service for three decades, and been an integral part of Brazilian decisions on international economics, development and human rights.

In addition to the Ambassador’s remarks, the luncheon will feature our second annual Global Corporate Citizenship Honor Roll, which recognizes Massachusetts-based corporations who have signed onto the UN Global Compact, Principles for Responsible Investment, or the Principles for Responsible Management Education. UNA-GB is happy to acknowledge these model companies – and, in particular, we welcome 7 new signatories to our honor roll this year.  We’re glad the commitment to global sustainability and ethical business practices is growing in Massachusetts!

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You can experience firsthand a glimpse of the Luncheon below, with the video recap from  our 2011 Luncheon and see more photos here.

UN DAY 2011

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said regarding UN Day 2011, “In our increasingly interconnected world, we all have something to give and something to gain by working together.” In 1947 and now more than ever, the United Nations’ mission compels us as global citizens to unite in action to foster an improved international environment. Although the UN operates throughout the globe, the organization continues to need our support. On this day, we look to not only recognize the work of the UN, but also our own efforts, within our communities in Massachusetts and beyond, that contribute to a better world. On UN Day, UNA-GB not only thanks our community for their support of our organization and of the UN, but also urges us to look forward and ask ourselves what we can do locally to become better global citizens.

We hope you will join the UNA-GB community (a special shout out to our current 2012 sponsors, listed below) on October 29 to celebrate and recognize the United Nations’ impact locally and globally!  Stay tuned for more details over the next couple of months as they develop!

-Jessica Pires

2012 UN Day Luncheon Sponsors (as of August 7, 2012)
For those interested in joining as a sponsor, please contact Kaitlin Hasseler.

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