Human Rights Day – Is it on your calendar?

Dec 10, 2013
Jeff Chenoweth

Do you have today, December 10th, Human Rights Day, marked on your calendar?  Human Rights Day was established in 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate the adoption and resolution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration is recognized as a major humanitarian and diplomatic achievement, furthering international obligations to uphold the dignity of every person.

The Declaration was achieved promptly after World War II ended, at a time when the world was aghast at the horrific devastation of World War II. As the Declaration was adopted, millions of people across the globe, but particularly in Europe, were displaced in their home country or as refugees.  Within the framework of this and other human rights treaties is support for the right to migrate and for the protection and care of migrants, especially those outside their native country. As we hear current stories of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Sudanese refugees in Uganda, Afghan refugees in Pakistan (I sadly can go on), we remember and pray for these people who are not strangers or aliens, but human beings whose rights we are duty-bound to uphold. We also remember the humanitarian workers who place themselves in harm’s way to come to their aid.

In appreciation of Human Rights Day and the Declaration, it is important that people of faith recognize our humanity in others as a part of God’s creation.  Much of the Old and New Testament’s urgings toward righteousness are accompanied by admonishments to care for the poor, orphan, widow, and migrant.  Arising from these biblical texts, the Catholic Church has important historical and contemporary documents about the right to migrate and care for the migrants’ safety and sustenance. This body of documents is called Catholic social teaching.  One document of note, Strangers No Longer:  Together on a Journey of Hope, is a compelling statement by U.S. and Mexican bishops reminding all to recognize our neighborly existence across borders and see the face of God in all who must journey away from home and loved ones, often against their will, in order to maintain their life and dignity.

This underlying truth is understood by many Americans who know why comprehensive immigration reform, including the legalization of undocumented migrants, who are our neighbors, must be enacted.  Congress is close, but not close enough, to passing comprehensive immigration reform and offering a better future for those who journey into this country.  

In this season of Thanksgiving (should there really be a season of “post” thanksgiving?), Advent and Christmas, make sure to include Human Rights Day on your calendar and to commemorate it by asking your congressional representatives to support comprehensive immigration reform.  

* Jeff Chenoweth is the Director of CLINIC's Center for Citizenship and Immigrant Communities.