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Paynesville Press - April 23, 2003

Human rights acts still needed

By Erica Geurts

We as humans have this thing we like to call honor. Honor - the pride we take in ourselves and how others see us. It's really hard to maintain that honor and self-worth when someone else is treating you as less.

Every human deserves to be treated as a person, but there are times when that's hard to see. There are times when people are treated like animals and worse. The treatment they receive is a denial of their human rights.

Erica Geurts, Michael Houske, Kristi Louis, Kayla Loesch, & Dugan Flanders You might be asking yourself: what are human rights? Human rights are the rights of every human being, not treated differently because of race, age, gender, location, culture, etc. Without human rights, there would be no limit to the cruel things we could (and probably would) do to our fellow members of mankind.

The Paynesville Human Rights Commission recently held its annual essay contest for eighth graders at Paynesville Area Middle School. Winning the contest was Erica Geurts (back left), taking second was Michael Houske (back center), and taking third was Kristi Louis (back right). They earned cash prizes of $50, $35, and $20 in Paynesville Bucks respectively. Earning honorable mention honors were Kayla Loesch (front left) and Dugan Flanders (front right), each earning $10 in Paynesville Bucks.

Human rights cannot be bought or sold. Because of this pain we could inflict, people have come up with declarations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bill of Rights, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act to protect themselves and others.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed in 1948, shortly after WWII. Back then, the concept of human rights seemed foreign to the Nazis, at least so it appeared. They locked people up in concentration camps, starved, malnourished, and tortured them. That's what prompted this important declaration.

In the 1950s, the United States faced the civil rights movement in which blacks fought back against segregation, further reinforcing the founding of the Human Rights Declaration.

Perhaps you're thinking, "But that was 50 years ago! Surely we've changed."

Have we? Has America and the rest of the world changed a lot in the last 50 years? Are these declarations of human rights even necessary in modern times? Let's find out.

In Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it states that everyone has a right to just and favorable conditions of work and equal work to equal pay. It's an economic and social right, a right that determines how people live. Yet right now in Indonesia children and teenagers are working in shoe factories eight hours a day and overtime, tired and hungry, for a salary of around $10 a week. That's $2 a day, and on an eight-hour day is 25 cents an hour. Not to mention they don't get to keep a single pair of shoes they produce!

Much worse treatment exists in many countries of the world. Sudan, an East African country, is besieged with human rights issues of enormous proportions. Not only are the people in the midst of the longest ongoing civil war, but they face religious persecution, slavery, and torture.

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one should be held in slavery or servitude and the slave trade shall be prohibited. The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution supports this by outlawing any forced labor (criminal punishment is an exception), yet Sudan is engaged in an active slave trade.

Citizens living in the south are having their families ripped away from them to a fate that includes beatings, starving, labor without pay, and no medical attention. Even torture awaits these people.

You wouldn't think they are people by the way they're being treated. People who have seen too much have their lips pierced and a scalding padlock forced through them so that they can't eat and can't tell what has happened. Slaves have fingers cut off for minor mistakes such as losing livestock, or if they break a bone from carrying too heavy a load they receive no medical attention.

Don't you think that violates human rights? Article 5 of the declaration says that no human should be subjected to torture or cruel and degrading punishment. Doesn't that count as torture?

Sudan also has its religious issues. The bombings of Christian religious sites and thus forced conversions to the Islamic religion hardly count as freedom of religion. Not only is this basic human freedom guaranteed under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but is also ensured under the Bill of Rights established along with the American Constitution.

Now you should be thinking: "Those countries aren't covered under the human rights acts, so what does that have to do with America?" Well, America isn't perfect either.

Look at the treatment of Arabs in America since Sept. 11, 2001. An Arab-American man, shortly after 9/11, flew into the United States, was arrested at the airport, and interrogated for hours for no just reason other than he was Arab and was under suspicion. When a British-Arab woman flew into the United States, she was detained and questioned. When she asked to speak to the British consulate, American officials refused, saying that she could speak to the Pakistani consulate. She protested, saying she was British and quite innocent; however, the fierce interrogations continued. They took fingerprints and destroyed the locks on her baggage.

Now several human rights issues seem debatable here. In Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it says that all people are entitled to equal protection under the law, free from discrimination. However, wouldn't you say that handcuffing and interrogating a person solely on the grounds that they are of Arab descent violates that?

Destroying private property to search it without reasonable cause is an infraction of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment protects Americans against "unreasonable searches and seizures." That means unless authorities justified their suspicions that the woman's baggage contained something illegal they did not have the right to force open the locks and search it.

Now I ask you: do we need acts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I think we do; as a matter of fact, I think we need more. Perhaps the world would be a better place if more countries had similar human rights acts.

Everyone hopes the issues of the past will remain there, and many people turn away from the harsh reality that cruel acts of discrimination are still going on today in many parts of the world.

Is the cruelty necessary? No. Does it exist? Yes.

Simple facts, yes and no answers, but let me ask you this: Will it change?

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