Making Human Rights a Global Reality

With war and related human rights violations dominating the news, a summit at the United Nations on Friday, August 25 presented human rights education as a practical route to world peace. Celebrities, human rights heroes, and artists participated alongside grassroots reformers from 40 countries around the world.

The summit was called to increase awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a list of 30 articles declaring basic human rights for all people. The articles include basic rights many Americans take for granted, such as the right to food, shelter, and education, and the right to express one’s political views freely.

“Imagine how different this world would appear if member nations had implemented real human rights education from the late 1940s,” said Tim Bowles, Executive Director of Youth for Human Rights International, who opened the event in front of 500 attendees in Conference Room One at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Youth for Human Rights International organized the event in cooperation with the Human Rights Department of the Church of Scientology International, the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance, and Artists for Human Rights.

Mr. Enzo Di Taranto, speaking on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, welcomed the group and described the central role of rights in the mission of the UN. Mr. Hans Janitschek, President of the UN Society of Writers, described the vital part artists play in bringing about reform and in implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rev. John Carmichael, President of the Church of Scientology of New York, explained that his church takes to heart the words of its founder L. Ron Hubbard, “Human rights must be made a fact, not an idealistic dream.”

Youth delegates from around the world shared the dais with experts from the reform groups and the UN, and spoke from the floor in discussions of effective action. But it was the international premiere of the 30 one-minute public service announcements about the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that brought the crowd to its feet. Soon the attendees were enthusiastically discussing how to use and promote these learning tools to make human rights a reality. Each public service announcement is a professionally produced video segment designed to move and inspire the viewer to protect his own rights and those of others.

The creative force behind the PSAs, award-winning director and filmmaker, Taron Lexton, spoke about his vision as a 22-year old in creating these human rights messages. Mr. Lexton said, “I know a filmmaker can change the world. I poured everything I had into these PSAs, because people everywhere have a right to know their human rights.”

As proof that individual effort really can change conditions, the crowd saw and heard from five outstanding awardees who received the International Human Rights Hero award, presented at the UN by actress Anne Archer. Awardee Joseph Jay Yarsiah, as a teenager, was forced out of Liberia on three different occasions due to the violent fighting in his native land. Despite danger and devastation, he said, “I returned because only through education of the people of Liberia on their human rights, and the rights of others, is there hope for an end to conflict in my country.” He has since founded a Liberian chapter of Youth for Human Rights, and is educating both politicians and civilians.

The night before the summit, an exhibit of artworks inspired by the 30 human rights articles was held at the Westwood Gallery. Following the summit, an outdoor concert titled “Artists Taking a Stand for Human Rights,” featuring a wide range of performers and musical genres, entertained 2,000 in Union Square Park. Between musical acts, the public service announcements played on an overhead video screen to an appreciative crowd.

The concert served to introduce a large number of people to the importance of knowing and exercising their human rights. “We would not care to imagine how our global civilization might appear if we fail now to take effective action on teaching human rights universally to our next generation,” said Bowles.

Youth for Human Rights International (see the PSAs):
International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

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