Baha'is mark 60th anniversary of Human Rights Declaration

December 7, 2008
In the United Kingdom, pamphlets promote the right to education for Baha'is in Iran, who are currently barred from universities. Younger Baha'i students are often harassed or expelled from their schools.

NEW YORK, United States — Many Baha'i communities around the world are observing Human Rights Day this week - which this year has special significance because it marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In New York, the Baha'i International Community will host a one-day seminar on "Freedom of Religion or Belief: Perspectives and Challenges after Sixty Years of United Nations Protection."

The seminar, on 8 December, will entail two panel discussions featuring, among others: Felice Gaer of the Jacob Blaustein Institute who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Azza Karam of the United Nations Population Fund; Cole Durham of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University; and Malcolm Evans of the University of Bristol School of Law.

"Human Rights Day is especially significant this year because human rights seem to be under attack from many directions," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, who will also speak at the event in New York. "This year, given that it is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' 60th anniversary, it is all the more important, as that document sets the strongest normative standards for freedom of religion or belief."

Around the world

A number of Baha'i communities at both the national and local levels have planned events for Human Rights Day, commemorated each year on 10 December. Following are some examples:

In Canada, Baha'is are sponsoring or co-sponsoring at least 10 events, including a two-day "Human Rights Global Dignity Conference" in Victoria, British Columbia, held 6-7 December.

A number of events with Baha'i participation are taking place at various Canadian universities, including McGill in Montreal, and, in British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.

Local observances will be held in Chilliwack, Abbottsford, Colwood, Maple Ridge, and Langley in British Columbia, and in Richmond Hill and Okaville in Ontario.

"We have been encouraging our Local Assemblies to hold events," said Gerald Filson, a spokesman for the Baha'i Community of Canada.

In Brazil, Baha'is will participate in the XI National Human Rights Conference in Brasilia on 15-18 December. About 1,500 people are expected to attend, among them elected delegates from the 27 Brazilian states, guests and observers.

The Baha'i Community of Brazil has prepared a new edition of the "Human Rights Pathway," an exhibition of 30 posters - representing the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - designed to line a corridor where people can pass through to view. The new edition of the "Pathway" was printed using language and drawings produced by middle school students from Guara, a city in the outskirts of Brasilia, and with partial financial support of the Organization of Ibero-American States.

In the United Kingdom, the Baha'is community produced two pamphlets for distribution in schools and universities that connect the persecution of Baha'i university students in Iran with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifies the right to an education.

"Our Baha'i youth in various places are also organizing seminars, events, and presentations," said Robert Weinberg, a spokesman for the Baha'is of the United Kingdom.

He said Baha'is were also supporting an open letter, signed by a number of prominent educators, religious leaders, and academics from throughout Great Britain that criticizes Iran's policy of denying Baha'is access to higher education. The letter is to be released on Human Rights Day.

In Austria, the Baha'i community organized an event on 6 November 2008 at the Vienna Baha'i Center that commemorated the imprisonment and murder of Viennese Baha'is of Jewish background during World War II. That ceremony also celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In India, Baha'is are sponsoring a program in Lucknow that will launch a discourse on eradication of childhood poverty in collaboration with UNICEF of Uttar Pradesh.

Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1950, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. Over the years, a network of human rights instruments and mechanisms has been developed to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.