Human Rights Should Start at Home

Human Rights Should Start at Home

Written by: JoAnn Kamuf Ward

Date: 12/09/12


Photo & News Source: Politico 

2012 was a trailblazing year. Until this year, no state had defined fiscal policy in human rights terms. Vermont took the first step. The state Legislature amended the budget to explicitly include human rights principles, stating it “should be designed to address the needs of the people in Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.” Just the year before, Vermont passed universal health care legislation, also grounded in human rights principles. The legislation resulted from a statewide campaign built on the platform of health care as a human right. Through the campaign, Vermonters advocated for health care based on the principles of equity, universality, transparency, accountability and participation because these principles were key to addressing the state’s health care crisis.

Vermont represents just one of a growing number of states and localities integrating human rights principles to advance local policy. Most often in the United States, however, human rights are perceived as something relevant outside of our borders — useful as a foreign policy tool, but of little import domestically.

Monday, International Human Rights Day, offers a welcome opportunity to reflect on how and why these rights have meaning here at home — in local communities across the United States.

President Barack Obama has emphasized the need for the U.S. to lead by example in the realm of human rights in a number of speeches and statements. The recognition that we should lead by example is important, but leadership requires action.

To demonstrate a true commitment to human rights, the U.S. must take concrete steps to ensure human rights in the places where we live — cities and towns across the U.S. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recognized, “Human rights are universal, but their experience is local.” Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasized in a speech more than 50 years ago, that human rights begin “close to home,” where “every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

The U.S., however, currently lacks a comprehensive national strategy and infrastructure to promote and protect human rights at the state and local levels, where the true impact of human rights is experienced.

Where the federal government has failed to lead, states, cities and towns throughout the U.S. are breaking ground and incorporating human rights principles locally to enhance law and policy. This makes sense. Human rights call for comprehensive and proactive government action to address basic needs and foster dignity, fairness and equality for all — cornerstones of good governance.

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