Dec.5, 2011 International Human Rights Day Editorial

 (Published in Eugene Register Guard December 5, 2011 as a Guest Editorial) 

 GUEST VIEWPOINT: Human Rights Day connects local struggles to global issues 


Published: (Monday, Dec 5, 2011 10:44AM)Midnight, Dec 5

International Human Rights Day marks a time to celebrate the work of local human rights organizations seeking to fulfill the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This historic declaration, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, continues to serve as a beacon for human rights and civil rights activists across the globe and here at home.

A collaborative effort among the Eugene Human Rights Commission, the city of Eugene Equity and Human Rights Center and a coalition of local nonprofit groups, Eugene’s Human Rights Day Celebration has consistently sought to bring human rights home by connecting our local struggles with those of our sisters and brothers around the globe.

It has also served to guide our community to adopt the principles of the UDHR and implement them locally (check out

This year’s celebration on Dec. 6 will highlight local efforts to advance human dignity for members of our community who are too often marginalized: the homeless, immigrants, and gays and lesbians seeking traditional marriage.

Article 3 of the UDHR states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” while Article 25 articulates the right to adequate standard of living, including housing. For those without permanent housing, insecurity is a constant fact of life. Homeless people are victimized by criminals, harassed by police and viewed with suspicion by the public.

In these challenging times, more people are finding themselves facing homelessness. In the face of severe budget cuts, our social service agencies continue to find ways to serve this growing population. The Egan Warming Centers are one small but important effort to address the needs of people in crises that will be highlighted at the celebration.

Immigrants have played a critical role in our country’s history, beginning with the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. Yet each new group of immigrants has faced discrimination, persecution and hostility.

Lane County is home to immigrant families from many nations and cultures that have come here to seek opportunities for a better life. But often these individuals find they are shut out of the institutions and social structures that would help them achieve their goals, even those who jump through the bureaucratic hoops to obtain legal status.

Articles in the UDHR address the right of human beings to immigrate, to work, and to seek opportunity across national borders while retaining their dignity and other basic human rights.

Locally, efforts are under way to acknowledge the contributions of immigrants and to create a more welcoming community through the Lane County Network for Immigrant Integration.

This network brings together representatives of human rights and social service organizations, public safety and educational institutions, and others to seek ways in which our county can actively recognize and promote the human rights of immigrants. The network has drafted a statement of principles that embody this effort. People will have an opportunity to sign on to that statement at the Dec. 6 event.

The right to marry and form a family is enshrined in Article 16 of the UDHR. Currently the Oregon Constitution limits marriage to opposite sex couples, thus denying hundreds of Oregon couples the opportunity to exercise this basic human right. While there have been great achievements in recognizing the basic rights of gays and lesbians, this is one area in which progress is painfully slow.

Basic Rights Oregon has been actively working to change this through its Marriage Equality campaign. BRO’s ultimate goal is to create an affirmative right to marriage for gay and lesbian couples in Oregon. By engaging individuals in dialogue about the value of marriage and the reasons gay and lesbian couples are seeking to marry, BRO is beginning to turn the tide of public opinion.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers us many ways to seek justice for those who suffer discrimination whether due to their economic status, racial or cultural differences, or sexual orientation. The common thread of honoring individual autonomy and aspiration runs throughout the declaration.

In addition to offering more information about these local efforts, the Dec. 6 event will provide participants with a global perspective on these issues through the keynote speaker Ajamu Baraka, an internationally recognized defender of human rights.

By connecting our local struggles with the work of people around the world, we empower ourselves and others to continue working to create a more just and humane world.

Claire Syrett is field director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. Guadalupe Quinn is coordinator for the Immigrant Rights Advocacy Program of Amigos Multicultural Center. “Act Now! Protect Human Rights in Our Community” Human Rights Day Celebration will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Atrium Building, 99 W. 10th Ave. in Eugene. For more information, contact the Equity and Human Rights Center 541-682-5177.