With Dignity: A view on human rights

Marika Straw

I’d like to take you on a human rights journey with me this year. My column, “With Dignity,” will be an exploration of the content, applications and implications of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

It will be a probing into the broad scope and the essence of human rights and what they mean to us as Lawrentians and as American citizens. Most importantly, it will be a journey into the realm of personal ethics and values, a realm I find we all too often set aside as “unacademic” or “subjective” here at Lawrence.

Who am I and why am I qualified to write about this? I am Marika Straw. I am the Social Justice Programs Coordinator at the Volunteer and Community Service Center and co-vice president of the Amnesty International club at Lawrence. I am always seeking new ways to gain knowledge and fight for human rights, so last summer I decided to dedicate my time to volunteering at the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.

Amidst everything I gained from this experience, the most important realization I made was that we will never have the world imagined within the UDHR unless we all learn how to treat each other as human beings. Put in human rights language, we need to learn how to affirm each other’s human dignity.

The concept is deceptively simple. Yet in reality, it is incredibly difficult to enact. Indeed, it is difficult enough to spend a lifetime trying. After all, what is human dignity? And how does one affirm it? These are questions we will be examining.

In this weekly column, I will be taking you on a journey through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article by article.

We will look at articles’ implications, their histories, their current violations and the ways they are being upheld. We will look at the cultural values we place on certain articles, at cultural conflicts with articles and their interpretations and at alternative interpretations and misconceptions. We will look at how our legal system affirms or denies the rights stated in articles. It’ll be some heady stuff.

But I don’t want you — or myself — to get totally lost in these technicalities and discussions — although getting slightly lost can often be quite instructive. I want to always bring it back to what I think is most important: how we enact human rights within our own lives. Because the most basic way of affirming human rights does not necessarily involve signing petitions or spreading information about abuses.

It involves treating other human beings as human beings, by treating human beings with dignity. And that is something that we, as Lawrentians, can do. And it is something very, very powerful.

So please, if there is nothing else you take away from my column this entire year, remember that by treating your fellow humans as humans, you, too are doing your part in affirming human rights.

I’ll try to do my part, too.