The Onondaga County/ Syracuse Human Rights Commission honored International Human Rights Day with speakers at All Saints Roman Catholic Church that reminded people of violence and discrimination faced by LGBTQ community members, those with disabilities, and people who've immigrated or resettled here from other countries. Commission Executive Director Barrie Gewanter noted human rights day came out of the International Declaration of human rights adopted in 1948.
"Some of the rights articulated in this document are still at issue here at home. When we think of rights of immigrants, the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of the poor, of African Americans in our communities, of people who are transgender, and people who are religious minorities, some of these issues are still at issue every day here at home."
Gewanter added the Declaration covers rights t: vote in free elections; the right to nationality and to not have it taken; right to property and not have it taken from you; right to work and get equal pay; freedom of religion; right to marry and to raise a family; and right to remedies of violations of one's rights, among others.
Speaker Paula Johnson is a Syracuse University Law Professor who is also co-Director fo the Cold Case Initiative that seeks justice in civil rights-era murder cases. She says gay and particularly transgender people are much more likely to be victims of violence here and in other countries due to existing personal and institutional prejudice.
"deeply imbedded homophobic and trans-phobic attitudes, criminalization, abuse and exclusion, lack fo legal protection, expose many people in the LGBT(Q) community around the world of their basic human rights without legal recourse."
Bruce Sexton is a Juris Doctor candidate at SU College of Law and works on disability issues through the Burton Blatt Institute. Sexton is blind and told the audience that he believes people need to address inherent biases, even ones that might be surprising.
"In order to have human rights, we mist admit to our personal and our systemic human wrongs. In order to make change, disabled people can be ableist and racist. We are ableist, because we're prejudiced against other disabled people."
Similarly, Sexton noted that minorities can be racist, women sexist, etc. And many times such discrimination is imbedded in systems and practices, which also ahve to be recognized in order to be improved.
Abdul Saboor advocates for refugees and immigrants in the Syracuse area. He came here in 2014 from Afghanistan, after serving there teaching counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism to afghan and NATO soldiers. He has always seen America as a chance at freedom, but has found some of that promise to be flawed, especially in recent political times.
"As a Muslim, New American, because I'm not an American yet, I have to acknowledge in the past year a fear is starting to emerge in my home that we thought had died in 2014. How is it possible that the very country that offered us protection, safety, hope and opportunity is taking it back."
Gewanter says the observance of International Human Rights Day was inspired by words from Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the original United nations Human Rights Committee.
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home ... .Unless these rights have meaning here, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."