Two Articles  (2007) Human Rights Spoken Here

What follows are two articles on the Human Rights City Project.

Ken Neubeck, "Human Rights Activism Goes Local, "  Guest Viewpoint,  The Register-Guard, November 6, 2007.  This essay emphasizes the need to apply international human rights principles and standards within the United States, including at the local municipal level here in Eugene. 

Human rights activism goes local

By Ken Neubeck

Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2007

As schoolchildren, we were taught that all people are endowed with certain inalienable rights, including rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We learned that it is a government’s responsibility to secure these rights for those whose consent is needed to govern. The Declaration of Independence has inspired human rights advocates for generations.

The concept of inalienable human rights was later enshrined in one of the world’s most historically important international agreements: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States played a major role in crafting this document, approved by United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The declaration identified basic human rights which nations — capitalist and socialist, affluent and impoverished — agreed were fundamental to human dignity. Social and economic rights were granted equal importance with civil and political rights.

Since 1948, many major human rights treaties have come into force, ratified by nations around the world (see www.ohchr.org/english/law/index.htm). Some provide for comprehensive protections of vulnerable populations, including women, people of color, children, people with disabilities, indigenous groups and migrant workers and their families.

Others require that governments take positive steps to realize the right of all people to work, adequate wages, fair working conditions, education, health care, food, clothing, shelter, social security and an adequate standard of living. When governments ensure such human rights, people’s quality of life is improved and their opportunities to develop the full range of their capabilities are enhanced.

While the United States regularly condemns human rights violations elsewhere, in recent years its own human rights record has been subject to criticism. For example, critics have raised alleged U.S. human rights abuses abroad in connection with the war on terror.

Critics have also begun focusing on the U.S. government’s domestic human rights record. How, they ask, can the U.S. call upon other nations to support the social and economic human rights contained in the universal declaration (as President Bush did in a Sept. 25 speech at the United Nations), while providing so little support for these rights at home?

Why, in the United States, are poverty, hunger, homelessness, discrimination, lack of access to health care, educational inequalities, unemployment and jobs that fail to pay a living wage not defined and treated as important human rights problems that government at all levels must act to eliminate? Such conditions are considered violations of universal human rights in other nations, but not here.

Unlike many other nations, the United States lacks a national “human rights culture” that stresses the importance and value of universal human rights. And the dynamics of partisan politics in Washington, D.C., do not currently favor a critical examination of U.S. domestic problems through a human rights lens.

Such federal gridlock need not preclude action at lower levels of government. Global warming provides a helpful illustration. Top U.S. officials have been slow to acknowledge scientific evidence of a global warming problem. Many municipalities have forged ahead with solutions on their own and now lead by example.

A similar situation is developing with regard to the desire to “bring human rights home” to the United States. From Seattle to San Francisco, from Chicago to New York, municipalities have adopted or are contemplating the incorporation of international human rights standards in their operations. Such standards call for governments to be proactive, collaborative, transparent and accountable for showing progress when it comes to addressing human rights issues affecting members of the local community.

These developments have not gone unnoticed by Eugene’s Human Rights Commission. One of the commission’s goals is “ensuring that human rights are a central part of every city program.” With City Council approval, the commission recently placed the Human Rights City Project on its work plan (visit www.humanrightscity .com). Its purpose is to explore ways in which Eugene can infuse international human rights standards across city government operations.

The result may be a proposal to revise the existing Eugene human rights ordinance so as to enrich and expand the city’s human rights activities, make the city more proactive in addressing human rights issues, and create new partnerships to systematically identify local human rights problems and fashion solutions.

In order to open a conversation on these topics, the Human Rights Commission is presenting a symposium — “Bringing Human Rights Home: Implementing International Human Rights in the United States” — from 9 a.m. to noon Friday in Room 175 of the UO’s Knight Law Center, 1515 Agate St. The public is invited. For more information, call 682-5177.

___________________________

Ken Neubeck of Eugene, an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, is a volunteer for the Eugene Human Rights Commission.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA

          ------------------------------------------------- 

Jeff Wright, "Human Rights Spoken Here,"  The Register-Guard, November 6, 2007.  This news article describes the Eugene Human Rights City Project,  through which the Eugene Human Rights Commission is exploring ways in which international human rights may be implemented across Eugene city government operations.

Human rights spoken here

By Jeff Wright

Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Eugene enjoys plenty of monikers, including Sister City, Track Town, and World’s Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors. Now, some citizen and government activists think it’s time to add another name: Human Rights City.

On Friday, the city’s Human Rights Commission will sponsor a symposium that looks at why and how international human rights standards can be applied at the local level.

Event coordinator Ken Neubeck calls Eugene a perfect community to take up the human rights banner. “People here speak about these issues with ease and knowledge,” he said.

But what applicability do international human rights standards — which address such issues as torture, hunger and shelter — have to do with civic affairs in Eugene, Oregon?

Neubeck and other advocates say the relevance is mostly intangible but real: A city that formally embraces such standards is likely to be more accountable, more transparent, and more likely to be proactive in addressing citizens’ needs.

“It’s about improving people’s quality of life and helping them develop their full capabilities as human beings,” Neubeck said. “There’s no reason why this shouldn’t go on in every city, town and village in the world.”

On a practical level, embracing human rights standards could affect the tenor of city discussions on issues as varied as police behavior, immigrant rights, living wages, health care, domestic violence or access for people with disabilities, Neubeck said.

It’s not the city’s job to, say, feed the hungry, Neubeck said. “But maybe there are some policies the city can adopt that could make it easier for others to feed people.”

The United States, he said, often fails to address issues such as poverty and hunger that are considered to be violations of universal rights in other nations. Much like global warming, human rights is a topic that some local communities are taking action on rather than wait for the federal government to take the lead, he said.

Neubeck said infusing human rights in city governance dovetails nicely with Mayor Kitty Piercy’s Sustainable Commission, which identifies social equity as one of three core values. A city oriented toward human rights could address unintentional rather than deliberate acts of discrimination, and might lower the level of discrimination-related litigation, he said.

Neubeck, 64, is a retired professor of sociology from the University of Connecticut, where he helped found an interdisciplinary minor in human rights and wrote a book entitled “When Welfare Disappears: The Case for Economic Human Rights.”

Upon his retirement in 2003, he and his wife moved to Eugene to be closer to a son and two grandchildren.

Neubeck almost immediately volunteered as a volunteer advocate with the city’s human rights program, assisting citizens with human rights complaints.

He soon pushed the Human Rights City Project idea, which the City Council ultimately approved as part of the human rights commission’s current two-year work program.

Friday’s forum will cost $8,500, mostly for speakers’ honoraria.

The biggest underwriter is the University of Oregon Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics, which is providing $3,300 in grant money; another $1,000 comes from the City Council’s contingency fund.

In addition to the morning forum, an afternoon workshop will be held for about 60 city and community leaders and staff members.

Francisca Leyva-Johnson, a city human rights program staff member, said Eugene has the opportunity to be a trailblazer in the movement to apply international human rights locally.

“You look at the rest of the country, there are not many paying attention to human rights,” she said. “This is a community that says, ‘Yes, this is important to us.’ ”

Embracing international standards of human rights can push the city to change the way it does its work. “It gives people the power to do things differently and think about things differently,” she said.

Copyright © 2007 — The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA

                                -----------------------------------------------------

www.humanrightscity.com