Human Rights – From “Conception” to “Realization”

Hey y’all, this is Savannah from the Macon County Public Library.   You heard about several holidays in the last blog but for this blog, we are going to talk about human rights and Human Rights Day which was on December 10.

caution-1295260_960_720Now, as a semi-trained history geek, my “historian” mind went all over the place when I decided to write this blog.  Knowing, however, that  as a human working at a library, my inherent bias (based on objective research, mind you) must be squelched, I quickly realized (with the help/advice of a co-worker) that this blog could well turn into a series of investigative blogs of which I do not have the time to devote (yet).  So, without further ado, and with a promise of maximum objective attempt, I give you an annotated bibliography of some of Fontana Regional Libraries’ resources on Human Rights with a few extra facts on the side.

earth-11008_960_720First, December 10 is Human Rights Day because in 1948, the United Nations (UN) (generally) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  I say generally because not all members of the UN (and I am not going to go into the details or the arguments about the UN and its pros and cons) agree, today, on all of the articles (of course we don’t) of the UDHR.  Specifically, the UDHR was the catalyst for two primary treaties that were ratified by the United Nations General Assembly.  First, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, then, The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights was signed in 1966.  Both treaties are a point of contention today.  As you may have guessed, not all nations (officially recognized by the UN) have ratified these treaties.  Many have adopted the principles outlined in the treaties with critiques (accession) while others simply have not signed off on the treaties.

Now, you may (as I did) jump to conclusions about human rights violations (assuming that there is an obvious reason/human rights violation for why not every nation would want to sign one of these treaties) because, on any given day, many different news sources (as demonstrated by International Newsstream – “a database of over 660 of the world’s top newspapers…”) cover this topic, however, I found that one of the best resources for arguments about modern-day human rights issues is the Opposing Viewpoints Series: Human Rights edition, located at our Marianna Black Library in Bryson City.  This particular anthology gave me some needed perspective.

For example, one of the articles (dating to 1994) reprinted in the Opposing Viewpoints: Human Rights book, “International Human Rights Standards Neglect Asian Values” by Robert Weil (an intellectual and author who passed in 2014), argued that one nation, specifically the United States, that enforces its views and values on any other nation is imperialistic.  Weil contended that it is unfair to for the United States to enforce its views and values on other nations when it is clearly neglecting its own human rights problems such as “poverty, police brutality, and discrimination against minorities.”

As that was one viewpoint conveyed in the Opposing Viewpoints book, another viewpoint by Pierre Sané (current President and Founder of the Imagine Africa Institute and former Assistant Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)) argues that human rights are universal and not relative to one culture.  Further, Sané states that “no government has yet shown how the distinct values of its culture justify poverty, torture, discrimination, or ‘disappearances'”.  While this particular speech dates to 1993, the book is still very relevant to today’s world as human rights are still a topic of debate and still being violated, everywhere, on a daily basis.

Some of those human rights problems that are occurring and reoccurring today are spoken about in a great young adult book series called Critical World Issues: Human Rights by Brendan Finucane.  Located at the Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library, this book includes Indigenous peoples’ perspectives as well as perspectives for those who are aging and those that have disabilities (and many more).  The book also talks about current human rights violations in Syria, the United States, China, and Guatemala.  If you’re looking for a basic overview, I suggest starting with this book.

If you’re not looking for the basics and you’re ready to engage with an overview of the philosophy and “history” of human rights, start with Inventing Human Rights: A History by Lynn Hunt.  Another great book located at the Marianna Black Library, this short and concise history of Western Enlightenment thought (yes, there is such a thing) engages with concepts that were not discussed (historically recorded as being discussed) until the American (1775/6) and French Revolutions (1789).  Specifically, if you, like me, are not a “historian” of the Western Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and/or the Renaissance, then you will learn (or relearn) about the prominently discussed intellectuals of this time including Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Emmanuel Joseph (abbé) Sieyès, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (and others).   By the way, if philosophers pique your interest, occasionally, the Jackson County Public Library holds a philosophy series.  I hear it’s really cool.  The last one happened in October, 2018.


While Hunt’s book discusses the commonly named individual intellectuals of the Enlightenment, she also discusses the concept of empathy and how empathy was discussed and recognized through, da, da, da, dah!!, novels.  I could go on and on about this but I won’t because that’s another blog and I am sure you’re over this if you have made it this far. (Side note, I don’t have a PhD (yet) but I might also investigate the argument that empathy, as a written about concept, started way earlier with religious and legal documents dating to earlier global civilizations but this is yet another blog and probably a much discussed argument, just saying.)

Finally, I’d like to talk about two more human rights sources and issues that are important to me (not that all human rights are not important to me).  The Hudson Library, in Highlands, NC has a great documentary called Citizen Jane: Battle for the City which is about Jane Jacobs, an urban activist and one of the first people to truly recognize and warn against gentrification in the United States.  As a middle-class Appalachian person who resided both in both Seattle, WA and Asheville, NC in the United States, I have witnessed communities struggle to keep their homes as privileged people, such as myself, arrive and stay.  The documentary gives specific examples, neighborhoods in Manhattan, of a subject that we don’t like to talk about or really think about in the rural mountains of western North Carolina.

The Hudson Library also has a juvenile book called the LGBTQ Human Rights Movement by Theresa Morlock.  If you or your child are looking for quick facts about the LGBTQ movement, this is a fabulous factual book about the movement itself which has made critical ground in my lifetime with the Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, 2015, that marriage for same-sex couples is legal in all 50 states.  This is the actual realization of a human right being recognized and enforced (for the most part) which is amazing.

I (we) have a long way to go concerning human rights and our understanding of human rights from various cultural perspectives.  This blog has not talked about women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, veterans, unhoused persons, education, labor/slavery, water, health, genocide, detaining children, torture, food or the plethora of issues that we constantly discuss or don’t discuss that affect our fellow human beings on a daily basis.

If you’re interested in human rights, which, if you have made it this far I assume you are, I invite you to check out even more resources provided by the Fontana Regional Library as well as the following websites.  There are too many websites/sources to name (many have been linked and re-linked throughout this blog) but here is to getting started on this vast and relevant topic:

Kanopy.  Oh my goodness, folks, this is the coolest free (with your library card) streaming service.  You can simply type in “human rights” and come up with a ton of films and documentaries about various contemporary topics.  Seriously, check it out.

NCLIVE. Also available through the Fontana Regional Library.  If you’re looking for peer-reviewed research, you can always check out the many databases and journals, like International Newsstream.  If you’re looking for quick biographical information, I suggest checking out the Biography Reference Center.

The United Nations.  Start there.  It’s an endless cove of information.

Human Rights Campaign.  Mostly deals with LGBTQ specific issues in the United States.

Human Rights Watch.  A global campaign dealing with hunger, poverty, and child welfare among other problems.

Wounded Warrior Project.  Specifically for veterans.  Helps with benefit information as well as providing a “Combat Stress Recovery Program”.

International Justice Resource Center. Addresses civil rights internationally.

There are thousands of resources out there.  Don’t hesitate to ask your local librarian about where and how to get started (or delve deeper) in to the topic of human rights.  A topic that affects us all.





One thought on “Human Rights – From “Conception” to “Realization”

Comments are closed.