10 December: Human Rights…for ALL!

Dashing about this weekend to parties, Christmas concerts & the mad ‘get-everything-ready’ holiday rush, it’s difficult to slow down amidst drinking Eggnog to think about – Human Rights??  But today back in 1948 a war weary world came together (pushed along by American former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt) to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here’s a link to read it…  http://www.un.org/en/documents

So each year we commemorate this declaration – the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights gets a bit more media attention & folks working for justice around the globe have their sound byte, but tomorrow the world moves on to the next celebrity crisis…and we pass around another round of Eggnog.  Ho hum.

Have to confess that last year I probably totally forgot (so many things to do, so little time), but last week a good friend, Fatuma, sent an email to raise awareness of Gender Violence activities today (she’s in charge of global Gender programs for a large INGO.)  So thank you Fatuma, because I HAVE been thinking about Human Rights this week…and am so very, very grateful for those like you who have blazed the path for gender equality around the world.

Before taking that next sip of Eggnog (we have several jugs in the fridge, but you can pick your Christmas drinkie of choice!) think about the many girls & women who have been victims of gender violence –especially RAPE – in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, the DRC (Congo) & Sudan where it has been used as a weapon of war.   Often that’s just the beginning of their horrors. In Kosovo I met with a 12 year-old rape victim, but that was the least of her worries after being used as a human shield by paramilitary forces in the war zone… and in Africa often kidnapped girls are raped, then forced to be ‘wives’ for the conscripted soldiers.

Tanzanian girls- happy to study!

Thinking about basic human rights (and the lack thereof) sometimes it’s good to be American (note the ‘sometimes’ – we still have MANY challenges!)  but living in places where people had no rights, I am so grateful for our Constitution, the freedoms therein & opportunities made thereafter…

We take so much for granted… for example the right to EDUCATION.  So many girls (& boys in some places, but especially girls) don’t have a chance for even primary school since taking care of livestock & crops & fetching water is part of family survival.  Where I worked in the Middle East, all the schools were shut down for four years; even kindergarten teachers caught teaching their students were sent to prison. Then in other parts of the world girls still don’t have a chance to study because …they’re GIRLS.

Then there’s TORTURE.  (you can set the drinkie down now!)

If we would think more about the Golden Rule: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – maybe dehumanization would not happen & this great evil would not persist.

How would you feel if your wife, daughter, son, brother, sister, husband, or father was beaten, imprisoned, routinely tortured? How would you feel if the breaking of YOUR bones was considered “moderate physical pressure?”

So why is it ‘ok’ to torture anyone?? (According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: IT’S NOT OK!)

The most fundamental right, however, is the right to LIFE.

Here’s a paragraph from a younger Virginia in an old Christmas letter found this morning (in the 1st place searched, a total miracle!)  (re: Kosovo!)

“…and seeing mass graves of bodies hacked in senseless violence. I spoke with a farmer in a village near Podejevo. The bodies of his father (78), mother (72), neighbor (70), and sister (55) had been dumped into a mass grave we visited.  Although his sister’s husband had urged her to flee, she wouldn’t leave her feeble parents by themselves. His sister and parents were killed, their ears, arms and other body parts sliced and mutilated, and yet, with tears streaming down his face, this farmer said, “it’s not right that we burn Serb houses now.” When I asked about living again with Serbs, he said, “we’ve suffered so much it would be difficult,” but then later, however, he told me there was an elderly Serb woman living on his street, “she’s different, we will protect her because she’s our neighbor.” 

My Christmas letters were so full of Cheer(!) I still remember this farmer, vividly. He pleaded with his sister to join them as they fled their village to safety, but she said, “who will take care of our parents?  They’re so old & can’t hurt anyone, why would anyone want to hurt them?”   Indeed.

“Nothing matters so much to me as human life.  It is something so serious and so profound, more than the violation of any other human right, because it is the life of the sons (& daughters) of God, and because this blood (the murders of so many in El Salvador) negates love, awakens new hate and makes peace & reconciliation impossible.”  Archbishop Oscar Romero

Kosovo...

Life IS a Gift… and so many like Oscar Romero around the world (& in this country)  laid down their lives in the pursuit of justice, equal rights – basic human rights FOR ALL.  Thanking God – today & EVERY DAY – for the gift of their lives & their legacy to continue fighting injustice wherever, whenever, however we can…

So DO pass around more Eggnog, raise those glasses high – and hear Virginia’s Human Rights Day toast:  TO LIFE!

No ‘ho hums’ around here – we CAN be Roses & root out the rubble of injustice around us & around the World… Let’s be about it!!

 “The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  St. Irenaeus

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