Events mark 65th anniversary of United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Last modified: Sunday, December 08, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — A United Nations declaration 65 years ago remains a cherished pledge for people around the world. This coming week, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be celebrated in events around the region.

Civil rights attorney Robert Perry calls it a “great aspirational document, which envisions a collective responsibility on all of us and the states that represent us in ensuring the fundamental fairness and equality of opportunity for everyone.” The declaration commits members of the United Nations to uphold the dignity and worth of all persons, the equal rights of men and women and justice and respect for international law.

Perry will be among the speakers at a 65th anniversary commemoration of the declaration at 2 p.m. Sunday in Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church. That is one of several events, which also include public readings of the document in Amherst and Northampton.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, will speak in Northampton at 1 p.m. Saturday at Congregation B’nai Israel, 253 Prospect St., reflecting on his journey as a lifelong advocate for human rights.

In Amherst, the Human Rights Commission will join the local chapter of Amnesty International in sponsoring a screening of “Dirty Wars” at the Jones Library at 1 p.m. Saturday. The documentary film explores America’s war on terror. Those who attend will have an opportunity to write letters of support and encouragement to prisoners of conscience. The free event will also feature music and refreshments.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, a vigil on Amherst’s Town Common will include a reading of the U.N. document. Battery-powered candles will be provided to participants. Deborah Radway, Amherst’s human resources and human rights director, said people will stand in a circle while reading the 30 articles in the document. People of all ages are welcome to participate.

The Amherst Select Board this week adopted a proclamation marking Tuesday as Human Rights Day in Amherst. This “encourages all Amherst citizens to be mindful of human rights principles and urges all municipal, state, federal and international bodies to incorporate said principles.”

In Northampton, the city’s Human Rights Commission will present a program called “Human Rights are in Our Hands: a celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, 220 Main St. The gathering will include a public reading of the declaration, a talk by professor Josh Miller of the Smith College School for Social Work on racism and social oppression, and musical performances. The event is free and open to the public.

Jewish faith communities will also gather in the Valley to express support for the declaration.

On Saturday, Congregation B’nai Israel, Beit Ahavah, Jewish Community of Amherst, Temple Israel Greenfield and Temple Israel Athol will each hold services they are calling a “Human Rights Shabbaton.” Shabbat is the Jewish sabbath.

Events start at 9:30 a.m. at Congregation B’nai Israel with a morning service and what’s billed as a “fair trade/locavore kiddush.” The day includes McGovern’s talk at 1 p.m. and, at 7 p.m., music featuring Ben Grosscup, Annie Hassett and Yosl Kurland, who organizers say will be “sharing songs of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and the struggle for social justice.”

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Perry, the attorney, will speak at a commemoration of the declaration at Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church. The event is sponsored by the church and Natural Path Meditation Center in Sunderland and will include what organizers call “compelling dialogue and reflection” by the Rev. Armand Proulx of the church and Perry, with music by Pat and Tex LaMountain, Russ Thomas and Jeanne Douillard.

“I don’t think there’s a more eloquent statement of the capacity for grace in the way we govern human relations than is set out in that declaration,” Perry said in an interview.

Adopted three years after the UN’s 1945 founding, the declaration “arose out of a moment in political history when the people of the world had to recognize our collective capacity for nearly annihilating ourselves, as dark a moment as perhaps we’d witnessed to that point,” said Perry, who points to its role in providing the “deep collective narrative” that has in turn led to statutory enactments and court rulings to legally guarantee human rights, and has found its way into legal discourse and arguments.

Approved by U.N. members Dec. 10, 1948, the declaration “sets out a broad and sweeping affirmative duty upon (member) states to take positive measures to ensure equality of opportunity in the broadest sense,” Perry said.

“To realize this aspiration will require a collective movement of hearts in the service of enlightened action,” Perry said. “Great advances on behalf of social justice begin not with a court ruling or a political victory or the signing of a law or a treaty but, rather, with the opening of hearts.”


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