Iowa City celebrates Human Rights Day, supports UI center

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By Rishabh R. Jain, The Daily Iowan

While locals celebrated Human Rights Day in Iowa City, several took the opportunity to further discuss the future of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights.

Members from various local advocacy organizations convened Monday to discuss the importance of universally defined human rights, on the 64th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

After shifting the venue into the Old Capitol because of freezing conditions on the Pentacrest, speakers took to the stage and read aloud the 30 articles in the Declaration and talked about their importance.

Harry Olmstead, member of the Iowa City Human Rights Commission, declared Dec. 10 as Human Rights Day in Iowa City. He also declared the commission’s support for keeping the UI Center for Human Rights on campus, which was followed by a roar of applause.

“The city of Iowa City encourages citizens to join the Iowa City Human Rights Commission in addressing all threats and discriminations and protecting human rights for all residents of the city,” Olmstead said. “I would also like to say, on the behalf of Human Rights Commission, that we all support in keeping the Center for Human Rights here on university campus.”

UI officials have decided to discontinue funding for the center. University officials said that does not necessarily mean the Rights Center would close if supporters are able to find other means to fund it.

Amy Weismann, associate director of the center, spoke briefly about its significance.

“The Center for Human Rights has been engaged for 12 years in efforts to educate a global community about the human rights of individuals and what organizations and individuals can do to protect those rights,” Weismann said.

She noted that it is most important to protect the rights of individuals who are most vulnerable and have spent time in incarceration or detention.

Maureen McCue, UI adjunct assistant professor in International Programs, also expressed her support for keeping the center on campus.

“If we are ever going to promote a global community that works for the betterment and security of all, we must pay attention to and promote the values embedded in the [Rights Center],” McCue wrote in an email. “We need to not only save the center but to strengthen its mission and incorporate the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] into the university’s mission.”

Ed Flaherty, the president of Iowa Veterans for Peace, said human rights has a very global aspect to it, and therefore, it is important for people in Iowa communities to know more about what is happening in such places as Afghanistan and Syria.

“We need to understand what life on the ground is like in Afghanistan because we have been engaged with that country for more than a decade,” he said. “… And to decrease the psychological gap between American citizens and say, Afghan citizens, we need to first stop killing each other.”

Thomas Baldridge, the vice president of Iowa United Nations Association, said that sometimes, the universal interpretation of human rights may contradict the American interpretation of the same. He used the issue on same-sex marriage as an example.

“We are brought up to think that well, this is the best country in the world, and everything that is right and just is what we do,” he said. “And then we look at the declaration and go oops, we are different in this category and that category.”

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