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Harvard marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Wednesday (Dec. 10), highlighting both the document’s power and its unfulfilled promise through theater, song and ideas.
As images of the declaration’s articles were displayed in light onto University buildings in an outdoor tribute, hundreds gathered inside at the Harvard Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum for an event featuring dozens from the Harvard community and beyond, spanning fields from acting to economics, from music to medicine.
“We’re here to celebrate a truly remarkable document … and all its ramifications and all it means,” said Harvard Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood, who introduced the event. “There have been periods of remarkable progress and real setbacks.”
Jacqueline Bhabha, executive director of the University Committee on Human Rights Studies, which sponsored the event, said that it is part of the mission of places like Harvard to inspire students and channel their idealism toward worthy goals, something she hoped Wednesday’s event would help accomplish.
The night opened and closed with the arts. It kicked off with a dramatic reading of the declaration’s 30 articles by 30 different people whose lives have been touched by a particular article’s content. Among them were Bol Riiny, a former Sudanese “Lost Boy”; Svang Tor, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide; and Hassan Bility, a Liberian journalist and former prisoner of conscience. Readers also included several members of the Harvard community, including Loeb University Professor Laurence Tribe, Evron and Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of International Affairs John Ruggie, and Learned Hand Visiting Professor of Law Judge Richard Goldstone, who was the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The evening ended with a performance by Malian singer Oumou Sangare, also known as “The Songbird of Wassoulou.”
In between was a discussion of the current state of human rights by economist Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize laureate and the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and Paul Farmer, the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Medical Anthropology and a founder of the nonprofit Partners In Health. The panel event, moderated by Harvard PresidentDrew Faust, highlighted the Universal Declaration’s groundbreaking enumeration of economic and social rights — the right to work, to education, to medical care, and to food, clothing, and housing.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted 60 years ago, on Dec. 10, 1948, in the wake of the human rights horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Its drafting was led by former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as a delegate to the United Nations from 1945 to 1952.
Faust introduced the panel, saying that the declaration’s 26th article — on education — is particularly meaningful to her. The article says everyone has a right to free elementary education and that higher education should be accessible to all according to merit, something that Harvard has been working to make happen. Though there has been progress in making the declaration’s rights real to people around the globe, violations are still a regular and unremarkable occurrence, Faust said.
“Every day, every single one of these articles is violated somewhere,” she said. “They [the articles] ask us to uplift ourselves and keep, as the declaration says, ‘this declaration constantly in mind.’”
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Paul Farmer (right) speaks to Drew Faust (left) and Amartya Sen (center). Photo credit Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard News Office.
“Every day, every single one of these articles is violated somewhere.” - Drew Faust.
Amartya Sen (center) addresses the audience on the issue of human rights. Drew Faust (left) and Paul Farmer (right). Photo credit Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard News Office.