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Human rights on young students’ agenda

On a frigid January evening, six area students spoke about human rights to our United Nations Association chapter here. They were the only high school group to attend the UNA Global Summit last year with UNA Vice President Greg Smith.

Our students pointed out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 was the first document defining fundamental human rights for all peoples in all nations. It was written by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from around the world, and is translated into 500 languages. To learn about its 30 articles, visit

These students have learned deeply about First Principles, the foundation for a meaningful life and a good society. They said that an attack on the human rights of one group or individual is an attack on the human rights of all groups.

President John F. Kennedy spoke feelingly about such equality in his speech, For What We Fight: “The rights of every person are diminished when the rights of one are threatened.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., echoed this: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

And so we remember a version of a poem written by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, quoted in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

That all men are created equal is our nation’s founding principle. This equality pertained to white property-owning males in the Declaration of Independence, but now we understand it as including all humankind.

For 70 years humanity has been learning ever more about human rights, and this is vital. If we are ignorant of our right to equal protection under law, the right to privacy, to asylum, to an adequate standard of living, even the right to rest— to name a few — then how can these foundational principles become reality?

Article 2 is about the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and of all forms of racial discrimination. Let us work to embrace human rights for all, so we can at last prosper together and do unto others as we would have them do unto us—the first Golden Rule to be conveyed in positive terms.

These high school students are Marisa Medici and Kennen Eksic from Proctor High School in Utica; Sydney Henderson and Ian Tracey from Whitesboro High School; Lily Collins from Clinton, and Grace Zhang from Manlius Pebble Hill.

Carol White is president of the Upper Mohawk Valley chapter, United Nations Association,