This past Friday marked the annual celebration of Human Rights Day in South Africa, a day spent commemorating all those who have fought and died to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the South African people.

President Jacob Zuma addressed thousands at the George Thabe Cricket Pitch in Sharpeville, the site at which the Sharpeville massacre occurred.

The massacre occurred on March 21, 1960, and serves as the event which sparked Human Rights Day.

On that day, thousands of South Africans joined together to protest against the apartheid Pass laws, a system designed to segregate the population and severely limit their movements around the country. Residents of the Sharpeville and Langa townships embarked on a protest march and were attacked by the police. 69 of the protesters were killed, while 180 more sustained severe injuries.

The event became known as the Sharpeville massacre because hundreds of other South Africans across the country were killed that same day for protesting.

This brutality came as a result of apartheid colonialism, which ravaged South Africa for decades. Humans Rights Day thus reminds us of the sacrifices of democracy, as well as the progress that South Africa has made in promoting human rights regardless of one’s race, gender, or sexual orientation.

A number of South African leaders spoke at the Sharpeville pitch on Friday, all highlighting the achievements that South Africa has made since the adoption of human rights in 1994.

That year marked the end of apartheid for South Africa. It was only two years later that the late President Nelson Mandela would sign the South African Constitution in Sharpeville, to pay homage to those who lost their lives that day.

Now, South Africa is celebrating all it has achieved. This year’s Human Rights Day theme is ‘Celebrating 20 years of changing lives through human rights.’

President Zuma noted, “Madiba and his peers and those before them, laid a foundation for the society that respects human rights, freedom and justice. On such a day, we remember and celebrate their contribution to making South Africa a good place to live in. We can’t do all this alone. We need your support as a community to work with us. Let us build our country together.”

South Africans across the country heard his cry.

Many activist groups gathered at various locations to rally for Human Rights Day. A campaign known as Right2Know gathered outside of the Johannesburg Central Police Station to protest police brutality. A group known as the Women of Marikana rallied for gender equality in Wonderkop. The Democratic Alliance’s Women’s Network in the Western Cape held a candlelight vigil that night.

The responses of all of these groups show the enduring determination of South Africans to work together as a community to protect human rights and prevent violations.

President Zuma promised that within the coming years, the South African government would work its hardest to improve access to water, electricity and clinics, as well as increase the rate of employment.

Human Rights Day was a day of remembrance and celebration, as well as a time to show how South Africa has become a beacon of hope for countries fighting human rights violations across the globe.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: All Africa, Business Day Live, SBAC
Photo: Cape Town Magazine

Martin Luther King Quotes on Poverty
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr will forever hold a place in the hearts of millions of people around the world. The immediate need for freedom from racism, discrimination and flat out brutality toward African Americans will forever be King’s message. However, Dr. King also used his platform to shed light on global poverty.

He expressed the need for poverty to be abolished and the need for nations to come together to combat this growing problem. Here are excerpts of Dr. King’s written documents concerning the dire need to end poverty.

Excerpts from Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize address in 1964:
“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, it projects it’s nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.”

“So it is obvious that if a man is to redeem his spiritual and moral ‘lag,’ he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ of the world. Poverty is one of the most urgent items on the agenda of modern life.”

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

“The time has come for an all- out world war against poverty.”

“The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.'”

Excerpts from Dr. King’s “Let My People Go” speech. Human Rights Day December 10, 1965:
“Africa does have spectacular savages and brutes today, but they are not black. They are the sophisticated white rulers of South Africa who profess to be cultured, religious and civilized, but whose conduct and philosophy stamp them unmistakably as modern-day barbarians.

We are in an era in which the issue of human rights is the central question confronting all nations. In this complex struggle an obvious but little appreciated fact has gained attention-the large majority of the human race is non-white-yet it is that large majority which lives in hideous poverty. While millions enjoy an unexampled opulence in developed nations, ten thousand people die of hunger each and every day of the year in the undeveloped world.”

An excerpt from “Where do we go from Here: Chaos or Community” written in 1967:
Sadly this is Dr. King’s last book before he was tragically assassinated.

“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed matter: the guaranteed income.”

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”

Nearly fifty years after these words were breathed, they still reign true; especially since poverty continues to be a problem for millions of people in 2013. Let us not allow Dr. King‘s words to remain in the past. We must give them life again and continue to make this world a better place, as Dr. Martin Luther King did nearly fifty years ago.

Amy Robinson

Sources: Nobleprize, RFKSA Film, Progress,
Photo: BAR Photography

Pope Francis, the current Pope of the Catholic Church, has been characterized as one of the most progressive popes in recent history. In addition to insisting that every homosexual person be treated with love and respect, Pope Francis has redirected the main focus of the Church to helping the poor and marginalized individuals.

In his ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ speech, Pope Francis stated, “as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems, or for that matter, to any problems.”

On December 10, the Pope invited individuals across the globe to join him in a global wave of prayer to end world hunger in honor of Human Rights Day. The prayer commenced at noon in Tonga and ended in the American Samoa. 164 countries prayed for 24 hours.

The Pope’s efforts support the recent statements by the President of the Vatican, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga. Maradiaga says, “with the help of governments and the (United Nations,) we can end hunger by 2025.”

The Circle of Protection, a coalition of Christian groups, organized a prayer that took place on the United States Capitol Lawn and was expected to have a large Congressional turnout. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut praised the Pope’s efforts by stating that his “focus on feeding the poorest and most vulnerable embodies the mission of the Catholic Church and is an inspiration to us all.”

The Catholic Charities USA website offers individuals the opportunity to sign a pledge to join the Pope in using prayer to bring about the end of global poverty and hunger.

Pope Francis has also organized fasting and prayers for peace in September of this year to help the violence in Syria.

Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: Huffington Post, Catholic News Agency
Photo: Pat Dollard

December 10th, 2013 is the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the World Conference on Human Rights.

The UN General Assembly first proclaimed Human Rights Day in 1948. However, the efforts were renewed in 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna through The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. It consists of a preamble and 30 articles.

The Declaration has been translated into more than 380 languages and dialects: making it the most translated document.

This universal document defines fundamental human rights and freedoms that are to be applied to protect anyone, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.

The human rights theme this year is Working For Your Rights, with an emphasis on looking forward to looming challenges.

At this time, let us reflect on and celebrate the achievements in human rights over the past 20 years. Broadly, there have been notable advancements in the areas of women’s rights, the development of law to achieve accountability for human rights abuses, the protection and promotion of the rights of marginalized groups and a much greater understanding of the universality and indivisibility of human rights.

The UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) provides 20 specific accomplishments.

1.Economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights and the right to development are recognized as universal, indivisible, and mutually reinforcing rights of all human beings, without distinction.

2. Human rights have become central to the global conversation regarding peace, security and development.

3. New human rights standards have built on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the implementation of international human rights treaties is significantly improved.

4. Additional explicit protections in international law now exist covering, among others, children, women, victims of torture, persons with disabilities, and regional institutions. Where there are allegations of breaches, individuals can bring complaints to the international human rights treaty bodies.

5. Women’s rights are now acknowledged as fundamental human rights. Discrimination and acts of violence against women are at the forefront of the human rights discourse.

6. There is global consensus that serious violations of human rights must not go unpunished. Victims have the right to claim justice, including within processes to restore the rule of law following conflicts. The International Criminal Court brings perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice.

7. There has been a paradigm shift in the recognition of the human rights of people with disabilities, especially and crucially, their right to effective participation in all spheres of life on an equal basis with others.

8. There is now an international framework that recognizes the challenges facing migrants and their families which guarantees their rights and those of undocumented migrants.

9. The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals have been placed on the international agenda.

10. The challenges facing indigenous peoples and minorities are increasingly being identified and addressed by the international human rights mechanisms, especially with respect to their right to non-discrimination.

11. The Human Rights Council, set up in 2006, has addressed vital and sensitive issues and its Universal Periodic Review, established in the same year, has allowed countries to assess each other’s human rights records, make recommendations and provide assistance for improvement.

12. Independent human rights experts and bodies monitor and investigate from a thematic or country-specific perspective. They cover all rights in all regions, producing hard-hitting public reports that increase accountability and help fight impunity.

13. States and the United Nations recognize the pivotal role of civil society in the advancement of human rights. Civil society has been at the forefront of human rights promotion and protection, pinpointing problems and proposing innovative solutions, pushing for new standards, contributing to public policies, giving voice to the powerless, building worldwide awareness about rights and freedoms and helping to build sustainable change on the ground.

14. There is heightened awareness and growing demand by people worldwide for greater transparency and accountability from government and for the right to participate fully in public life.

15. National human rights institutions have become more independent and authoritative and have a powerful influence on governance. Over a third of all countries have established one or more such institutions.

16. The United Nations Fund for Victims of Torture has assisted hundreds of thousands of victims of torture to rebuild their lives. Likewise, the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, with its unique victim-oriented approach, has provided humanitarian, legal, and financial aid to individuals whose human rights have been violated through more than 500 projects.

17. Victims of trafficking are now regarded as entitled to the full range of human rights and are no longer perceived to be criminals.

18. A growing consensus is emerging that business enterprises have human rights responsibilities.

19. There are now guidelines for States which support freedom of expression while defining where speech constitutes a direct incitement to hatred or violence.

20. The body of international human rights law continues to evolve and expand, to address emerging human rights issues such as the rights of older persons, the right to the truth, a clean environment, water and sanitation, and food.

There is much to be celebrated. However, many people continue to not have a voice.

How can you participate?

-Support education through programs such as UNICEF’s Education First, as education is an empowering tool.

-Protect and use your freedom of speech. Journalists work to give a voice to oppressed people, and are often oppressed themselves while doing this valuable work. Find ways of supporting journalists and using your own voice to protect the human rights of oppressed communities.

-Use social media to raise awareness of Human Rights Day and human rights accomplishments or concerns that interest you.

-Contact your congressional leaders and ask them to support USAID or specific bills dealing with human rights issues, such as the Global Food Security Act of 2013 (H.R. 2822). For additional human rights related bills visit:

– Caressa Kruth

Sources: UNOHCHR, UN, Huffington Post, USAID