In 1948, in the aftermath of the devastating Second World War and with the Cold War threatening to escalate into a major conflict, the United Nations adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights— a landmark document in the development of an international standard for an individual’s rights to life, freedom and self-determination.
Article I of the document states that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
The document paved the way for continuing efforts to ban and eradicate cruel and non-discriminatory weapons like landmines, for passage of the Convention Against Torture and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although the world continues to (and may always) struggle with adherence to the Universal Declaration's assertions, the mere fact of its existence is a testament to humanity's ability to envision and aspire to a better way.
Human Rights Day was declared in 1950.
Every year on December 10, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration's passing, countries and organizations the world over observe Human Rights Day. The UN's theme for this year's observance is "Human Rights 365," which seeks to promote the notion that the promotion and protection of human rights are not just a once-a-year concern, but an everyday effort.
This month, many seniors are making a difference by volunteering with organizations that promote the strengthening of basic human rights and civil liberties — in the United States and abroad. Here are some ways you can get involved.
Volunteer with the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.
In 1943, by special resolution of City Council, the Mayor's Friendly Relations Committee was formed "for the purpose of studying the problems connected with the promotion of harmony and tolerance, and acting as an advisory committee for the solution of such problems."
The committee was the only second of its type in the United States.
Now renamed the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, its specific mission is "to study and investigate problems of relationships between various racial, religious, and ethnic groups in order to foster mutual respect and understanding, work to alleviate prejudice and discrimination in the City, and encourage equality and fairness in the treatment of all citizens to enhance the quality of life in the Cincinnati area."
It has over the years sought to engage and encourage dialogue between various groups, like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Coalition and the Urban Appalachian Council, in order to promote understanding and better cooperation among the Queen City's diverse communities.
One of the CHRC's key programs is the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, which was instituted in 2007 in response to increasing gun violence and other violent crimes in the Tristate.
The program trains and relies on Community Outreach Advocates, who typically live and work in high-crime and economically-challenged neighborhoods. COAs provide coaching and mentoring to at-risk members of their communities, work with police and other law enforcement agencies to identify and interrupt criminal activity, provide comfort and council to victims of violence and their families, and organize public events that promote the de-escalation of violence.
Attend public meetings of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) is a state agency that is responsible for educating the public about— and enforcing— Ohio's Laws Against Discrimination, originally set forth in the Ohio Civil Rights Act of 1959. The OCRC investigates claims of discrimination and works with business, community organizations and individuals to institute and strengthen non-discriminatory practices. It also provides a professional, voluntary mediation service to resolve discrimination claims.
The OCRC holds semi-monthly meetings in Columbus, in which Commissioners discuss and rule on recommendations from the OCRC's six regional offices. Citizens of Ohio can attend the meetings, as they are open to the public. The schedule of upcoming OCRC meetings and published minutes from previous meetings are linked here.
This Human Rights Day, get involved.
Whether you are living independently, or you are a resident of one of Cincinnati's many retirement communities, retirement affords you the time to take a stand for the promotion of human rights.
Remember, the rights set forth in documents like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the US Constitution and its amendments, or even as far back as the Magna Carta, are not dependent upon politics, gender, race, religion, or personal creed. To defend basic human rights— the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in the American wording— is not to take a political stance, but to assert one's conscientiousness.
As Charles Dickens once so aptly wrote in A Christmas Carol, the children of oppression are Ignorance and Want, and to deny their existence is to spell one's doom. But, like Scrooge, it is never too late to shed one's prejudices and cynicism, and to help and enrich the lives of those around you.