Human Rights Day commemoration in Fresno

(Narih Lee/Flickr)

By Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, Fresno State professor emeritus and chair of the Human Rights Coalition

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

Those were the powerful and bold words expressed by Hillary Clinton, then U.S. First lady, on Sept. 5, 1995, during the United Nations’ fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.

These words echo the fundamental principle of “Equal Rights of Men and Women” as mentioned in the U.N. charter, which was adopted by world leaders in 1945. Upholding, promoting and protecting women’s rights is the responsibility of all states, thus declared the charter.

In view of the recognition of growing importance and the need to promote women’s rights, the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) of the Central Valley has selected “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” as its theme to commemorate Human Rights Day on Dec. 9.

The commemoration will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the Fresno State campus in North Gym, Room 118. The planning committee of the HRC, chaired by Veena Kapoor, Bernadette Vasquez and Gail Gaston, have developed the program, which includes a panel led by experts and eight discussion groups on various issues affecting women. The keynote speaker will be Amanda Renteria, chief of operations, for the California Attorney General’s Office.

A welcome address by Fresno State’s first lady Mary G. Castro and special message by Dolores Huerta are slated. This year’s commemoration will focus on women’s leadership and resilience to turn obstacles and barriers into opportunities for growth and empowerment.

The commemoration starts with registration at 8:30 a.m. and a continental breakfast hosted by Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro. The event is being organized in partnership with the Fresno County Office of Education; The Ethics Center at Fresno State; the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno; and several other human rights groups from the Central Valley.

Admission to this event is free. The event is wheelchair accessible. Parking enforcement is relaxed.

Declaration of Human Rights

“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.”

Those were the prophetic words uttered by Eleanor Roosevelt, head of the Human Rights Commission, while submitting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) document to the U.N. General Assembly which later adopted the document on Dec.10, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The UDHR document was the result of the bitter experience of World War II, atrocities committed during the Holocaust and dismantling of the oppressive colonial system. It symbolized the hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions of people seeking peace, security and justice all over the world. It sent a powerful signal to the world governments to be accountable and respectful of human rights and basic freedoms of their citizens. It also made the citizens responsible for holding their governments accountable for achieving and protecting these rights.

UDHR was adopted to complement the U.N. charter as a road map to a peaceful and just world where human beings might enjoy freedom of speech and belief, freedom from fear and want that are proclaimed as the highest aspirations of the common people. A peaceful world which is free of war and violence, devoid of hatred, prejudice and discrimination was the dream conceived by the General Assembly.

It is noteworthy to mention that Eleanor Roosevelt, popularly called as ‘First Lady of the World’ by President Harry S. Truman, was the main driving force behind the formulation and adoption of the UDHR which is remembered as her major legacy. Whereas Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong advocate for human rights, she was equally concerned about responsibilities that go along with human rights.

While working on the UDHR document, she noted,”Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

She said of women’s rights, “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing, and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.”

What are Human Rights?
The UDHR document consists of 30 articles which describe: (1) civil and political rights such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; (2) economic, social and cultural rights such as rights to work, social security, education, health care; and (3) collective rights such as the rights to development, self-determination and participation in community life.
These human rights as mentioned in the document are universal and inalienable, interdependent and indivisible, egalitarian and non-discriminatory in character. Human rights are rights which are inherent to all human beings regardless of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language or any other status.

Human rights are fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because he or she is a human being.

Human rights provide a foundation for international human rights laws and are often expressed and guaranteed by governments when legislated, for example civil rights in the U.S. Human rights entail both rights and obligation at the government and individual level. Though human rights are considered natural rights or believed to be God-given, their conception, increasing importance and universal acceptance are relatively new.

Commemorations in Fresno

Since its inception in 2012, the HRC of the Central Valley has organized five events commemorating the UDHR. Professor Marjorie Cohn of Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, a well-known scholar with expertise on human torture, addressed the first human rights commemoration day on Dec. 8, 2012, in Fresno. She spoke on “Government Sanctioned Torture and Human Rights.” The event was held at College Community Congregational Church, now known as Community United Church of Christ.

The second commemoration was held on Dec. 7-8, 2013, with a theme of “Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery that is closer than you think.” The feature film, “Trade of Innocents”, that raises public awareness on human trafficking, was shown on Dec. 7 at the church.

On Dec. 8, Jim Schmidt, a producer of the movie, was the keynote speaker. Following his speech, a reaction panel consisting of local experts addressed the issues. The panel also included a survivor of human trafficking. The event was held at the Islamic Cultural Center.

The 2014 Commemoration: was around the theme of “Bullying – Human Rights Violation Against Freedom, Equality, Dignity and Respect.”

Bullying is apparently an age-old problem. It has been rampant in all societies and cultures. Its presence in our schools is a growing concern for parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders.

With all the media coverage about school violence and educational emphasis on safe schools, addressing the problem of bullying in schools seems to deserves attention, resources and commitment. According to one study, 86 percent of the students said that they turn to lethal violence because of being bullied. Almost the same percentage said that the school shootings are motivated by a desire to get back at those who have hurt them.

Bullying is violence, and violence perpetuates violence. Bullying in schools starts the cycle of violence at an early stage. It is a violation against freedom, equality, human dignity and respect – values which are highly emphasized in the U.N. charter and in the UDHR.

Judge David Gottleib of Fresno Superior Court to be the keynote speaker. Judge David Gottlieb is an expert in promoting and implementing restorative justice as an alternative method to rehabilitate rather than to just punish youth offenders.

The 2015 Commemoration: theme was “Climate Change: People, Planet and the Valley.” The keynote speaker was Mark Arax, an award-winning journalist and author. Arax gave a lecture on climate issues affecting the Central Valley.

The 2016 Commemoration: The theme was “The Refugee Crisis and Human Rights: Global and Local Perspectives.” The keynote speaker was Dr. Robert P. Sellers, board chair of The Parliament of World’s Religions.

Sellers, a renowned scholar and theologian, shared global implications and issues pertaining to refugee crisis facing humanity due to religious and ideological conflicts. Experts from the Valley shared their experiences in addressing the refugee issues at home.

Professor Emeritus Sudarshan Kapoor is the founder and currently the chair of the Human Rights Coalition. He was the founding director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program and the founder of the Peace Garden at Fresno State. Contact him at 559-435-2212 or

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