Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Human Rights Still Have Far to Go

Today, Tennessee celebrates International Human Rights Day. On this day 65 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Assembly proclaimed its principles as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations.” It represents the universal recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all human beings, inalienable and equally applicable to everyone, and that every one of us is born free and equal in dignity and rights. These rights are internationally recognized and accepted norms and values which promote dignity, fairness and opportunity for all people in communities around the world.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Through this office, the potential of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become more focused. The office has revitalized the human rights movement and generated progress in implementing human rights principles into common law.

Progress has been made in the advancement of rights for women, minorities and people with disabilities, the development of international law which institutes accountability for human rights abuses, human trafficking, torture and modern slavery, emerging rights (rights of older people, right to the truth, right to a clean environment, right to clean water and sanitation and the right to food) and a greater understanding of individual and universal human rights.

Many challenges lie ahead in the struggle to promote and enhance the dignity, freedom and rights of all human beings. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963, we must have a “fierce urgency of now” to continue progress and confront challenges.

In Nashville, we commemorate this day to reflect on our history and work with others to create a view to make our city, our state and our nation better. We will recognize three individuals for Human Rights Lifetime Achievement: the Rev. James “Tex” Thomas, pastor of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church; Elliott Ozment, the founder and managing attorney at Ozment Law; and Carrie Gentry. Also, two individuals as Rising Advocate — Gatluak Thach with the Nashville International Center for Empowerment and Stephanie Teatro with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

A panel that includes Forrest Harris, president of American Baptist College; Tasha French Lemley, executive director of The Contributor; and Pat Shea, executive director of the YWCA of Middle Tennessee, will speak on education, homelessness and domestic violence. It will be moderated by Oscar Miller, chairman of the Tennessee State University sociology department.

The committee organizing the event for Human Rights Day includes the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, Metro Human Relations Commission, Church of Scientology, United Nations Association and Amnesty International.

The Tennessee Celebration of International Human Rights Day will take place at the Sonny West Conference Center on the Howard School Campus and is free and open to the public. Networking begins at 4 p.m., and the program starts at 4:30. For more information or to become involved with this year’s celebration, visit nashvillehumanrights.org.

Beverly Watts is the executive director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.

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