Atlantans Mark 60 Years of Universal Human Rights


With additional reporting by Alice Gordon.

(APN) ATLANTA — About 100 people gathered on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at the Auburn Avenue Library. The evening included speeches, musical performances, and a keynote address by Rev. C. T. Vivian.

The Atlanta celebration was the culmination of dozens of events in Atlanta over the last 60 days, including some previously covered by Atlanta Progressive News, such as rallies against private immigrant prisons in Georgia.

ACLU also held a series of screenings of the film, The Visitor.

To be sure, events have taken place all of the country and indeed the world, to commemorate this anniversary of global importance. However, local activists believe the scope of the local events has been unique.

The main organizers of the event were Drena Brown, formerly of US Human Rights Network; Ian Fletcher, Associate Prof. of History at Georgia State University; Dianne Mathiowetz of the International Action Center of Atlanta; Laura Moye of Amnesty International; Azadeh Shahshahani of the ACLU of Georgia; and Erik Voss of International Center of Atlanta [IC, a different organization than IAC].

Over 70 local organizations signed on as co-sponsors of the events, including Atlanta Progressive News.

“When a group of us came together during the summer, we had no idea that our small first gathering would grow to such a thriving and energizing human rights campaign,” Shahshahani said in her speech.

“There was mutual interest by a number of people to support this celebration of the 60th anniversary of the UDHR. June 24th was the first meeting. Then we had various other meetings,” Voss told Atlanta Progressive News.

They called themselves Human Rights Atlanta (HRA).

Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights (CCHR), which is developing an Atlanta museum, was planning a series of events anyway, so Human Rights Atlanta decided to promote CCHR’s events as part of the larger calendar of events posted on the HRA website.

Some sources told APN, however, that HRA had an internal debate about whether to partner with CCHR, which has been criticized for its corporate entanglement, with groups like Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Development Authority, as well as with Coca-Cola and Mayor Shirley Franklin.

HRA also put together two educational modules called Human Rights 101 and Human Rights 102, which have been taught in different venues of the last few weeks. Moye had already created the 101 component, which HRA adopted; then Shahsahani created the 102.

“We need to get people to use that language… the human rights framework,” Shahshahani told APN, adding HRA was “equipping people with the tools to go out and demand rights from the government.”

“There are very compelling local issues that could definitely benefit from the human rights framework… for people to see the right to food and health care as a human right, for us as Americans to become familiar with the rights that are delineated in the [UDHR] and start demanding those rights from our government,” Shahshahani said.

HRA sees the UDHR as a “powerful tool to link issues of social justice,” Shahshahani said in her speech.

Because the UDHR is a declaration and not a treaty, it does not technically have the force of law–similar to the difference between an Atlanta City Council resolution and an ordinance.

Thus, Shahshahani argues it is also important for advocates to push the US to ratify several conventions that much of the rest of the world has signed on to.

These include the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention on Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Also, the US does not uphold three treaties it has ratified: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Shahshahani said.

The US essentially attached signing statements when it ratified these, preventing people from going to court using one of the treaties as the sole basis for a claim.

To be sure, pushing the human rights framework is not new in Atlanta. One organization, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, has been very consistent about framing its advocacy efforts around public services, transportation, and housing in terms of human rights.

Public housing preservation advocates repeatedly also told Atlanta Housing Authority and Atlanta City Council that housing is a human right, indeed one listed in UDHR. Unfortunately, this did not compel either body to cease its plans for mass evictions and demolitions.

Homeless people, Hurricane Katrina survivors, and immigrants are just some of the groups not receiving the rights they are entitled to under UDHR, Shahshahani said.

CT Vivian told Atlanta Progressive News he was excited about participating in the events.

“What made me do it was the need to always live this date. When we consider human rights, one thing that is wrong with this country is that it has never given this the proper concern,” Vivian said.

“Until we do we will never come into the 21st century. This past Administration and people like them have fought the UN resolution and never send people to the UN who support it. But we signed the Declaration.”

“We’re here to celebrate this 60th anniversary, not really the title, but something so deep in us, it didn’t start 60 years ago. It probably started 60,000 years ago,” Vivian said in his address.

“It’s just in the last few centuries we had enough connection… we knew we all desired the same thing. It was impossible to gain what we truly want by what we were doing,” Vivian said. “We were sending our children off to die in the wrong struggle.”

“Not until we rebel against how we’ve been programmed can we have what we really want,” Vivian said.

“Sixty years ago we came together to really express as a world community, not simply a few radicals… It was difficult to come to a point where the forces in the world would let us declare,” Vivian said.

“The UN finally coming together gave us the chance to have such a declaration of our… inner desire. It took us thousands of years to get here,” Vivian said.

At the heart of the declaration is the idea that “we don’t know what we could be until someone else knows what they can be,” Vivian said.

“We have to pick out some things to work on. We don’t live up to the Declaration of Human Rights. One of the reasons in this country, we don’t like to think any declaration is greater than our Declaration of Independence,” Vivian said.

Our rights in the US “are outdated by the Declaration [of Human Rights],” Vivian said.

“We are backward. We have not come into life… for the world. As a human family, we have a responsibility to others,” Vivian said.

“When you look the last 8 years, it was designed to wipe out everything the Civil Rights Movement brought forward,” Vivian said. “Can you imagine how far back you go when you lie to start a war?”

“The world is waiting for people like you and I,” Vivian said.

“Once you’re in the movement… freedom… making this a better world, it never stops. It was never about the moment we were in. It was about the moment we were creating,” Vivian said.

“It is in the action where life really is, where you find out who you really are. You can’t talk yourself into freedom because they won’t let you,” Vivian said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable is Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable is

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