Our Inherent Duty: Protecting Human Rights Across The World

June 11, 2024  • Virgil Parker

My focus on civil and human rights has certainly heightened over the last few years, while I attended college at Howard University. I grew up in a community where many families heavily relied on government support to survive. Public financial resources for housing, food and other welfare programs were very prevalent and necessary. However, my perspective began to drastically change once I started serving on mission trips to the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, while in college. I witnessed abject poverty, in person, and realized how widespread it could be in developing nations. Also, I quickly realized that while I come from an under-resourced community, and their concerns truly matter, many of us are privileged to come from cities or communities with adequate resources to invest back into the public. The lack of basic resources in my community and in the communities I’ve served, helped me see how smaller issues can turn into bigger problems later on. Furthermore, I have grown to learn that many individuals have more to give than what they estimate as valuable. No one has to be financially wealthy to make a major impact. I partnered with the Aspen Institute to help amplify local and national leaders who have taken on the fight to protect human rights across the world. It’s just icing on the cake that our video includes remarks from these leaders about why they believe human rights matters today.

The ongoing and relentless fight for human rights has taken many forms throughout history. Among the pivotal moments in this struggle was the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the tragic genocide in Rwanda when approximately one million people were slaughtered in the genocide, and reportedly 150,000-250,000 women were raped. Today, the world sits at a dire crossroads: Many are responding to the conflicts between Ukraine and Russia, and Israel and Hamas. The current civil war in Sudan has caused the highest number of internally displaced people in the world, at 9.1 million. As of today, millions of people are in need of humanitarian support in the country. And in the United States, the migration crisis in various cities has called into question basic human rights principles. The conflicts of today and those of the past, demonstrate how integral it is that the world establishes, preserves and improves human rights. The question for me is, what can be done?  

  Organizations like the Aspen Institute, and its collaborative focus on city innovation, are necessary for convening thought-leaders who can consistently evaluate the condition of human rights around the world. Their efforts allow leaders to engage the public, create prescriptive solutions, and share what works. As I’ve previously written, there are promising solutions that can assist local leaders with the responsibility of protecting human rights. Local issues such as homelessness and guaranteed basic income seem distant from global issues of war and genocide. However, when local leaders are empowered to meet the basic needs of residents, the outcomes of their actions can lead to the prevention of conflict and injustice in the future. Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council said it best: “..it’s better for all of us, for all of society, if we understand that human rights isn’t just about ‘those people over there’, it’s about all of us. And local governments can do that by embedding human rights in our services, and the services that we provide to our citizens. And whether that’s care, education or housing, if we adopt a human rights framework and approach to those, then we will deliver inclusive and universal services that will deliver better outcomes for everyone and that’s really what local government is for.” You can click here to hear from her and her contemporaries around the world.

I believe one of the most promising approaches to collaboration is working across the public, private and nonprofit sectors to share tangible resources and best practices that can be replicated globally. Much of these collaborations start with engaging local leaders tasked with delivering our most basic needs so that we can all be valuable and contributing members of society. We must continue caring about each other and not solely focus on the issues that only affect people in our country. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Virgil Parker is a 2020 Aspen Institute William Randolph Hearst Fellow. He also serves 2023-2024 a Global Goals Ambassador for the United Nations Association of the USA, representing SDG #4. He is also a 2024 U.S. Fulbright Alumni Ambassador.