Archive for the ‘Commemorations’ Category

100 Years Later: The Triangle Factory Fire

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Near the end of the work day on March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the factory of the Triangle Waist Company in New York City. 146  immigrant workers, the majority of which were young women, lost their lives. This tragic loss of human life is remembered as one of the pivotal moments in U.S. labor history, as it highlighted the inhumane and unsafe working conditions in which industrial workers could be subjected. Moreover, the incident served as a catalyst for transformations in New York’s labor code and the adoption of fire workplace safety standards around the country.

Commemorations are taking place today in New York City, and a comprehensive learning guide that sheds light on the story of the fire, the victims, the following legal reforms, and the legacy of the Triangle Factory incident is available at Cornell University’s Triangle Factory Fire website.

triangle factory fire

Happy Human Rights Day 2010!

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Today, December 10, 2010, marks the 62nd anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)! The UDHR is the most widely translated document in the world (375 languages and dialects) and consists of a preamble and 30 articles outlining the rights that apply to all people, regardless of any distinction (race, gender, nationality, religion, class, ability, sexual orientation, etc.) simply by virtue of their membership in the human family. Article One eloquently states the spirit of human rights by proclaiming that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” While the UDHR is a declaration and is not legally binding, the UDHR served as the foundation of the modern human rights movement by inspiring the birth of international human rights law through the passage of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. Together, all three constitute the International Bill of Rights.

Yet, most importantly, in addition to the development of legal mechanisms, the UDHR inspired local human rights movements for equality, freedom from discrimination, and self-determination around the world. What will you do today to honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The 3 million members of Amnesty International are participating in a Global Write-a-Thon, writing letters on behalf of political prisoners. The human rights community in Atlanta is celebrating with an artistic program called “RISE” at the Rialto Center tonight. Others are educating themselves on how their home country ranks in its respect for human rights by reading the Human Rights Risk Atlas (the U.S. ranking may surprise you)…

Getty Images

Getty Images

Matters of Life and Death: Women Count for Peace

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

1325plus10_WomenCount4Peace_208x140This week, ten years ago, the United Nations passed a landmark resolution on women, peace, and security. Known as UNSCR 1325, the resolution addresses the  ways conflict impacts women and it acknowledges the critical role women play in peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building.

Here in the United States, our day-to-day lives look very different than that of life in countries like the DRC and Afghanistan—where women are brutalized on a daily basis in the midst of armed conflict. However, that doesn’t mean we’re not impacted by war and responsible for peace. In recognition of this, yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enumerated several concrete, precedent-setting commitments by the U.S., including $17 million to address sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC and the development of a domestic National Action Plan to accelerate implementation of UNSCR 1325 here in the United States. If these commitments materialize, the U.S. will join 23 other countries who have developed national-level strategies to ensure that women are effectively represented in the full range of peace-building and reconstruction efforts; that they are protected against sexual violence; and that they are the focus of conflict prevention, relief and reconciliation efforts.

As Clinton said in her speech to the U.N., “It’s not as though we are doing a favor for ourselves and them [women] by including women in the work of peace. This is a necessary global security imperative. Including women in the work of peace advances our national security interests, promotes political stability, economic growth, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Just as in the economic sphere, we cannot exclude the talents of half the population, neither when it comes to matters of life and death can we afford to ignore, marginalize, and dismiss the very direct contributions that women can and have made.”

Shine a Light: 50 Years of Activism

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Nearly fifty years ago, in 1961, Peter Benenson wrote an article, “The Forgotten Prisoners” in the London Observer, in response to the arrest of two Portuguese students for making a toast to freedom in Lisbon. Thousands of people responded to his article, and soon after, Amnesty International was formed. In 1977, Amnesty International won the Nobel Peace Prize for its influential campaign against torture, and is now regarded as the standard setting organization for the global human rights movement as a whole. In addition to serving as the oldest human rights organization amidst more than 350 such organizations today, Amnesty International conducts comprehensive research on an array of human rights issues across the globe and currently has more than 2.8 million members worldwide.

In recognition of this fifty year anniversary, Amnesty International USA is hosting its annual Southern regional conference this weekend in Atlanta, entitled “Shine a Light: Fifty Years of Activism.” Similar conferences are being held across the United States throughout the fall.

Shine a Light

Your Chance to Show That Peace Is Possible

Monday, September 20th, 2010

peacedayWhat will you be doing on Tuesday, September 21st? How about intentionally turning off the television when a show depicting murder or any other form of violence comes on? Or taking the time to resolve a conflict with a co-worker? What would it look like if you declared a “no bickering” day in your household? And what if troops in Afghanistan, rebels in DRC, and armed criminals in the US ceased hostilities for the day? According to UN Resolution 55/282, this and more is what we should all be doing on September 21st — the International Day of Peace. It is a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, “an invitation to all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the day.” In 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this about Peace Day, “I call for a day of global ceasefire: A 24-hour respite from the fear and insecurity that plague so many places. I urge all countries and all combatants to honor a cessation of hostilities. I urge them to ponder the high price that we all pay because of conflict. I urge them to vigorously pursue ways to make this temporary ceasefire permanent.” Peace Day is an opportunity to make peace in our own relationships as well as to impact the larger conflicts of our time. To learn more, watch this UN Peace Day Global Broadcast. And to get ideas of simple things you can do to show that peace is possible go to:

Saving Lives: Humanitarian Assistance is Both a Right and a Responsibility

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

WHD_August 19th is World Humanitarian Day—a day to honor the work of the hundreds of thousands of women and men around the world determined to eradicate disease, poverty, and violence. Humanitarian aid workers strive to ensure that those in need of life-saving assistance receive it, regardless of their religion, nationality, race, or politics. The right to this assistance is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is guided by humanitarian principles that include neutrality, impartiality, and operational independence. However, in many parts of the world, there is growing skepticism about the integrity of humanitarian aid. In its worst manifestation, this skepticism has resulted in an increasing number of targeted attacks on humanitarian personnel. (Including the 2003 bomb attack in Baghdad that killed 22 UN employees and the UN Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello. World Humanitarian Day was originally initiated in recognition of this tragic event.) A healthier form of criticism is represented in films like Good Fortune“a provocative exploration of how massive international efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa may be undermining the very communities they aim to benefit.” The film shows a Kenyan man’s farm being flooded by an American investor who hopes to alleviate poverty by creating a multimillion-dollar rice farm and a woman’s business being demolished as part of a U.N. slum-upgrading project in Africa’s largest shantytown. Humanitarian assistance is both a right and a responsibility. However, it is clear that we—as a world community—still have far to go in figuring out how to do it both right and responsibly.

Americans with Disabilities Act Celebrates 20 Years

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability, which is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. In the United States alone, one out of every five people are affected by a disability, which is roughly 54 million Americans. However, since the ADA was enacted into law, significant changes in technology have created new challenges and forms of discrimination for people living with disabilities. For instance, people with disabilities are twice as likely to not have access to the internet or are severely limited to certain online activities. Those who are blind, for example, are often unable to enter passwords and use certain authentication software, barriers that could be overcome with the development and availability of voice recognition technologies.

As we look back at the last twenty years of progress in increasing access and eliminating forms of discrimination based on disability, we must keep the voices and experiences of people with disabilities at the forefront of policy debates to ensure that our laws keep up with changes in technology and that they continue to protect against new forms of discrimination which impede upon peoples’ capacity to engage with their communities and fulfill their chosen life courses.

The Fifth of July: A Speech by Frederick Douglass

Monday, July 5th, 2010

On this day in 1852, the day following the spectacular celebrations of July 4th, the great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass delivered one of the hallmark speeches of the anti-slavery movement, the Fifth of July speech. The speech is a profound work that weaves together both irony and powerful demands for human liberty. It is often overlooked, however, that Douglass was invited to deliver this address by the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Society. In understanding the significance of this speech, it is thus crucial to recognize the interconnectedness among social justice movements and how the long-fought struggles for racial equality and women’s rights were able to transform popular consciousness by drawing upon principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence- namely the existence of inalienable rights and the Right of the People to alter or abolish government if it becomes destructive of securing the rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. While the speech is a most pressing condemnation of the hypocrisy of the United States- in proclaiming freedom and liberty while profiting from the cruel and exploitative practice of slavery- the echo at the conclusion of the speech inspires critical reflection of the Declaration and resounds a call to action to uphold the nation’s most fundamental principles.

“Fellow citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them… To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American Slavery

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Frederick Douglass

Remembering Rwanda

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Nearly sixteen years have passed since the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994, and the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. Within three short months, more than 800,000 people were killed by friends, neighbors, and members of Hutu Power militias. Several years ago, I had the  opportunity to visit and study in Rwanda, where I met remarkable young Rwandans who, after having witnessed unimaginable terror in their childhoods, have committed themselves to building lasting reconciliation in their communities. The majority of international media coverage and financial resources have been directed to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (held in Arusha, Tanzania), which has jurisdiction over charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Interestingly, a former U.N. ambassador for Rwanda, Jean Damascene Bizimana, who is accused of involvement in the execution of the genocide, was found last week in Alabama. Despite the obvious necessity of prosecuting the masterminds of the genocide, the Tribunal has only convicted 29 persons between 1995 and 2009, and thousands of survivors continue to feel that justice has not been fulfilled. Specifically, 250,000 women were reported to have been raped during the genocide, and approximately 70% of them contracted HIV as a result. While the trial of Jean Paul Akayesu established the international precedent that rape is a crime of genocide, many of the 100,000 survivors of sexual violence are still unable to access necessary anti-retroviral medication (ARV) or basic healthcare services. What does “global justice” mean for these survivors? What forms of “justice” is the international community responsible for after failing to stop the genocide in the first place? 


Names of the Dead

Remembering Oscar Romero: 30 Years Later

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

On the evening of March 24, 1980, while performing mass, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by a death squad for his public denunciations of El Salvador’s militarized state and mass human rights violations. In 1993, a report by the U.N. Truth Commission on El Salvador revealed the person responsible for ordering the assassination as Roberto D’Aubuisson, a graduate from the School of the Americas in Colombus, Georgia. Archbishop Romero’s funeral on March 30, 1980 was attended by more than 250,000 people, and is recognized as one of the largest demonstrations in Latin American history. Today, people throughout El Salvador and the world remember a man who was committed to the principles of liberation theology and spoke out bravely against poverty, torture, and social injustice. For these same reasons, Romero was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and is widely considered the unofficial patron saint of the Americas. Ironically, as the world celebrates Archbishop Romero, the Texas Board of Education voted on March 10th to remove all mention of Romero’s life, work, and political activism from its curriculum because he is, as members argued, “not well known.” My question: Isn’t making things known the precise point of education?Oscar Romero