December: Universal Human Rights Month

Michelle Wang, Staff Writer

December 10th marks the 73rd year since the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights was signed by the United Nations. The Declaration is an international document that outlines the basic rights and freedoms of all human beings. Translated into over 500 languages, the rights range from the right to education to freedom from discrimination. Hence December was named the Universal Human Rights Month to celebrate and honor the rights and freedoms that we are all entitled to.

 Now, more than ever, is a time to recognize these human rights given the string of human rights violations that the U.S. currently experiences. As one of the most developed countries in the world, the U.S. faces an unfortunate reality where bouts of discrimination and violence frequent the headlines. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, lays out the major shortcomings of the U.S. The freedom of assembly was violated by law enforcement from the state and federal levels between May and June 2020, where people protested against police brutality towards Black people and called for reform of the system. These protestors were specifically targeted and subject to chemical and physical violence from the National Guard. 

The right to seek asylum from persecution was violated by the U.S.’s continued deportation of migrants which has led to thousands of deaths, many of which stem from hazardous conditions in migrant camps. The rights of refugees and migrants in the U.S. have been threatened by draconian actions of the federal agencies. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention facilities often fail to provide asylum seekers with adequate sanitation. COVID cases in these facilities have skyrocketed; over 8,000 migrants have contracted the virus in 2020 while detained by the ICE. Even under the Biden administration, the number of detainees has surged despite campaign pledges to reduce the number of immigrants in detention. In fact, a reported 330,000 migrants were unlawfully detained between March and November 2020. The immigrants are being detained and expelled at high rates and with little consideration of the unaccompanied children and persecution they face in their countries of origin.

The right to life and freedom from cruel punishment has been violated by the U.S. death penalty. U.S. is one of few nations that still uphold the death penalty for ordinary crimes. In all of North America (except for the U.S.) and Western Europe, the death penalty has been abolished for all crimes. Why is it that the U.S., which prides itself on its progressiveness, still retains a feature from antiquated history? As ACLU states “The U.S. death penalty system flagrantly violates human rights law. It is often applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner without affording vital due process rights.” In addition, the U.S. death penalty does little to address the mental and psychological states of those placed on death row which further perpertrates the disregard for these rights. 

These few examples among numerous others show the major failures of the American system and the violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Change towards a more equitable future, whether it be legislation, reform, or justice, is long overdue. The word “universal” in itself, indicates that these rights are unconditional, and are bestowed upon every individual. Every day, not just in December, we should take the time to celebrate human rights. As provided by the United Nations, here are some ways in which you can stand up for human rights: 

  1. Inform yourself and others on why human rights matter
  2. Speak up when another’s rights are at risk or under attack
  3. Challenge harmful stereotypes
  4. Donate to organizations that support victims of human rights abuses.
  5. Join public events in support of human rights 
  6. Lobby your government to uphold rights: sign related petitions; lobby your legislators to pass human-rights friendly laws and to repeal unfriendly ones.
  7. Consider the human rights track record of companies before doing your shopping.