Human Rights: More Than a Declaration

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Today marks 68 years since the adoption of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The declaration came at the conclusion of World War II, when specific groups of people were targets for eradication, and when natural resources were sacrificed to global militarization fueled by advancing industrialization. It was out of this reality that worldwide accountability gave way to the first global declaration of rights afforded to every human on the planet. Today, as we connect to global struggles demanding the rights of all people, a familiar political reality reminds us that we must do more than declare the existence of human rights--we must build a movement strong enough to claim them. On this Human Rights Day, the US Human Rights Network (USHRN) reaffirms our commitment to connect grassroots movements for social change to international human rights mechanisms, human rights obligations, and--above all--a people-centered vision that is broad enough and bold enough to unite us in the struggles ahead.

The U.S. is not exempt from acknowledging and protecting Human Rights
The people of this nation are great. The beauty and power of human rights is that we didn’t have to do anything to earn them - just be born as people, as stated in Article 1 of the UDHR. No citizenship or religious affiliation needed. While the UDHR and various international treaties provide a legal basis for the protection of human rights, the government’s legal obligations come second to the ethical and moral duty to not just protect its people from human rights violations, but to actively work to ensure that everyone can fully enjoy their rights. Despite what government officials and other leaders might say, our Constitution does not exempt us from human rights standards, nor does our leaders’ failure to sign or ratify the many treaties and conventions means that any of us are less deserving of the full spectrum of human rights within them. And in a democracy made of and by the people, the UDHR stands as a basic standard for right action. 

Our movements, our members
USHRN members and allies are resolved to stand up and fight back against terror, hate and supremacist movements as they inflict violence and elicit fear.  Black Liberation Movement leaders remind us that people power creates rights, rights do not create power.  Supported by Art. 9 and Art. 9 of the UDHR, USHRN members continue to protect and defend Black Lives and Immigrant Rights, and we work to end state violence and the corporate profiteering resulting from the profiling, modern enslavement and detention of black and brown bodies.  These resurgent supremacist movements are also targeting our climate and natural resources with the same destructive fervor. The fate of the planet, cultural lands, and public access to clean water are under attack by the highest bidder, but our members are growing a national alliance protecting the Human Rights to Clean Water and Sanitation from Detroit, Michigan to Uniontown, Alabama; from Eastern Kentucky to the California Central Valley; from the Gulf South to the Pacific Northwest. As we reflect and reset for this next era, we are reminded that the rights we have now exist because masses of people had the courage to unite and fight for them in the face of fear and violence. Today and every day, we advance in the struggle for human rights together.

The current conditions of Human Rights in the US
This year, USHRN is releasing a different report than we have in previous years.  The 2016 USHRN Advancing Human Rights Report serves as a strategy tool for organizers, advocates, and human rights defenders as we prepare for this next phase of work. Instead of our full status report and a report card, this year’s report examines five key issue areas 1) the human rights to clean water, sanitation, and the environment; 2) political human rights, such as the right to vote and right to dissent; 3) the human rights of migrants; 4) the human right to housing; and 5) the human rights to life, security, and access to justice, which includes freedom from state violence. These five issue areas examine the oppressive latticework of systems that hinder the full enjoyment of human rights in our society, namely white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. These intersecting issues impact us all - differently and to different scales - but impact us all nonetheless. USHRN’s Human Rights Report offers a deeper understanding of the current conditions we are facing and guidance to help orient organizing campaigns towards bold and transformative work to secure the full spectrum of human rights for everyone.  The report finds that we continued to face deep violations of human rights in the U.S. and if the Trump administration policies and cabinet appointments achieve the goals being set forth, we can expect the conditions we are facing to intensify.

Our basic human needs are under attack. In the U.S. access to food, clean water and working sanitation correlates with race and economic status. In addition, the global climate crisis is causing increasing instances of heat waves, flooding and other extreme weather causing disaster which will disproportionately affect people living in poverty.  As displacement, gentrification, evictions, and housing segregation continue, homelessness continues to be criminalized with a 143% increase in laws prohibiting people from living in their vehicles in the past ten years.

Our democracy is being eroded. The rise of voter suppression laws and practices of voter disenfranchisement have crippled civic participation in marginalized communities, while fear of the “other” has fueled an increase in civic engagement against self-interest.  

Our human rights are being dismantled. Instances of hate violence have spiked, the epidemic of sexual violence continues, there have been over 50,000 instances of gun violence, as well as state violence from police killings, racial profiling, mass incarceration, solitary confinement, and the death penalty.

Fear is a tactic of oppression meant to exhaust our best thinking and erode the potential for forceful alliances.  Human rights are strengthened by building the power of the people, and the US Human Rights Network was born to build a people-centered human rights movement through people’s power.

In the face of these human rights violations, your support for the US Human Rights Network promotes bold demands to ensure human rights for all: an immediate moratorium on extractive and agricultural industry operations that contaminate current or potential drinking water resources; to immediately close all family immigrant detention centers; to end “broken windows” policing meant to harass and intimidate; ensure community control over land through mechanisms of collective land ownership and stewardship.  Strategic conversations to strengthen a human rights movement and culture in the U.S. will continue as we move into this new year. Join as a member today and help support USHRN’s work to protect and advance human rights in the United States in 2017.

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