Human Rights: visibility within a community.
Written by Daniel Frumhoff
In 2008, The Year of International Human Rights began at Webster University with the goal of awareness. Not only awareness on campus, but of human rights in its entirety. This year’s conference further extended that dialogue to focus on rights specific to the family.
Speakers at the 2014 Human Rights Conference discussed the family as a fundamental and natural unit of society that requires the full protection of the state. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled. Together with the human rights law, the family can develop naturally. Topics included equal rights and responsibilities of both men and women to marriage, both during the marriage and at its dissolution.
Family rights encompasses the protection of people’s rights to marry and start a family, protect the equal rights of men and women in the family and the rights of children to parental care.
But family rights are just some of the many topics covered in the human rights program at Webster. The university offers one of the only undergraduate degrees in international human rights in the United States. This allows students, faculty and the community to come together and discuss what it means to be human and cultivate a universal narrative. Now, people are becoming more proactive and involved in giving back and advocating this awareness.
Junior international human rights major Henrietta Campbell is one of these students encouraging people not to be afraid to share their story.
“Some people don’t have access to information or knowledge,” Campbell said. “It’s about not being afraid to have those conversations and shareyour own story to make connections with other people that will ultimately better their lives.”
For their Webster Works Worldwide involvementthis year, Campbell went to Ashland Elementary, an inner city school that has been reported as one of the poorest schools within St. Louis city. Their group brought career day to Ashland, with community leaders and Webster students educating the preschoolers about their professions. This helped create a personal connection and interaction between the young students and professionals.
After graduation, Campbell plans to get involved in the local community by going to schools and spreading awareness about available resources. Campbell wants to start an outreach organization that specializes in helping minorities and removing homeless kids from toxic or abusive homes.
“I want to help people learn about the topics that no one introduces to them, and serve people by educating them to do humanitarian acts that are not for money,” Campbell said.
Another important area for more students to be doing research in is statelessness, according to Dr. Lindsey Kingston. Kingston, an expert on statelessness, is an assistant professor of international human rights and Director of the Institute for Human Rights & Humanitarian Studies at Webster. Statelessness refers to people lacking citizenship who are not recognized by any government.
Kingston has been working on this issue since 2004 and performing research to make cases and help people across the world attain citizenship. She has taken trips to Rwanda and other places in the world with students and faculty to address global human rights.
“The main issue is awareness and trying to get the word out because there is not enough data to present the problem,” Kingston said. “People that don’t have birth certificates don’t even exist.”
Without citizenship, people have no government to stand up for their rights. This usually leads to inequality, abuse and various forms of dehumanization, such as the inability to attain a basic education or legal employment. However, it’s not a huge issue in the United States because there are national laws that automatically provide citizenship to people born within the country.
In addition to her work on statelessness, Kingston planned this year’s Human Rights Conference and organized speakers to share their research and ideas. She was also on the panel of speakers for the conference and discussed the connection between family rights and statelessness along with goals for the future of Webster’s human rights program.
The 2015 Human Rights Conference will focus on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, specifically eliminating poverty in different parts of the world.
“On a larger scale, the ultimate decision people can make is to be more open-minded,” Campbell said. “People should be uncomfortable with being ignorant about human rights.”