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Groups gather to discuss and celebrate human rights

BY MEGAN DEPPE | DECEMBER 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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While Iowa City officials say the city is receptive to international human rights, there is still more to learn and room to grow.

Tuesday marked the 63rd Human Rights Day, which began in 1950 as a day to bring the attention of the world to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Iowa U.N. Association held a public reading of the declaration on Tuesday in the Iowa City Public Library, where several different organizations for human rights read the separate articles and spoke about the importance of human rights.

Yashar Vasef, the executive director of the Iowa U.N. Association, said the reading was begun last year when the Center for Human Rights was moved into the University of Iowa Boyd Law Building. There had been talk of the Human Rights Center closing at the time.

“We want to show everyone that there are a lot of great groups out there,” Vasef said.

Ed Flaherty, a member of Veterans For Peace, said one of the reasons he attended the reading was what the document stood for.

“You read it, and it sounds so idealistic,” he said, “But the people who wrote it meant to inspire hopes and dreams.”

Vasef and several people who attended the reading said Iowa City is a good place for human rights, with many student organizations at the UI and organizations outside it.

Ron McMullen, a UI visiting associate professor of political science and a former U.S. ambassador to Eritrea, said the move of the Human Rights Center to the Boyd Law Building seemed to promote more student involvement in student rights.

“Iowa City is more involved and active in promoting human rights than most cities of this size across America,” McMullen said.

One of his duties as a diplomat was to promote human rights, which gave him a unique insight into abusive regimes and areas with a lack of human rights, he said.

“I’ve worked with many victims of abuse of human rights,” McMullen said. “It’s something that, as an American, we often don’t realize how good we have it.”

Human rights are also an important issue in Iowa City, Vasef said,  because it has “an increasingly growing refugee population.”

“It’s very important to use to that that these people are here, and why,” Vasef said.

UI Adjunct Assistant Professor Maureen McCue, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said Iowa City was “fairly good at understanding human rights,” but there were a great deal of issues to consider.

“Without respect for human rights, entirely too many people suffer from discord,” McCue said.

“You can’t buy yourself rights — it’s something that everyone is born with, and we can’t forget that.”
Flaherty agreed, saying, “It’s a continuous process to educate people.”

“If anybody’s rights are taken away, it threatens your rights,” she said.

Vasef said he hoped the event helped to remind members of the community about the importance of human rights, but “there’s a lot of work still to be done.”

“We can talk about how good it is to work for human rights, but we get what we invest in,” Flaherty said. “If we want to invest in human rights, we should buckle down and do it.”


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