blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
by Danny Waldroop
“They are the banks of the river of life.” At least that’s the way Shula described human rights.
It’s not easy to define human rights. In the media human rights are referred to only in their absence; genocide, oppression, human trafficking. Examples of our collective failure to secure these sacred rights are plenty.
But defining a human right is much more challenging. Are they laws? Or are they something more than that; something more universal and more fundamental. Never mind a definition, it’s hard enough to find examples of human rights being fulfilled. Can the absence of a genocide be seen as a human rights success? How about free speech?
These questions swirled through my mind this past Saturday as my GYC delegation #gycnyc sat down with Shula Koenig, a veteran human rights activist and winner of the UN’s 2003 Human Rights Award. As a guide, Shula presented each of us with a copy of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reading through the extensive list, I was surprised to find calls for social security along with those for free speech. I had never thought about human rights from such a concrete, economically-minded perspective. To me, human rights had to be at such a basic level as to not necessitate resources. And while I left the workshop unsure if my view had changed; it had certainly broadened.
Shula asked us to think about the first time our human rights were infringed upon, as well as the first time they were fulfilled. The questions caught me off guard. My first reaction was to think that of course my human rights had never been violated. I enjoy freedom of speech, of religion, of movement and have never been attacked for indulging in any of them.
Shula, however, perceived human rights in a different way. To her, they weren’t just about those large, fundamental freedoms. Neither did they apply solely to horrific crimes. Human rights were a “framework;” something that laws, down even to the small ones, are designed around.
Here was the definition I was searching for. Human rights were neither the freedoms given to me in the Constitution nor were they the trash collection services that kept my streets clean. Rather, human rights are the framework of ideas that inform governments and peoples to write Constitutions and laws for society. And with my understanding of human rights just a little keener, I felt ready to delve three weeks deeper into things during the GYC in NYC program #gycnyc.
To view VIDEO of a theatrical representation of Human Rights as the Banks of the River of Life, click here.