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72 Years of Human Rights Day; 20 Years of HRI

A LETTER FROM HRI’S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BILL HOLSTON

December 10 is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the day when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted.  The very first article is:  

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.  

For twenty years, HRI has been fighting to make those words a reality. 

Those words were shaped by women activists: Indian delegate Hansa Mehta, champion of women’s rights in her home country, revised the phrase “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal,” to make it less patriarchal. She, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a fierce group of women were instrumental in ensuring that the Universal of Declaration of Human Rights is what we know today. 

On our twentieth birthdaywe celebrate women’s role in shaping the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in part because it mirrors our own founding, which was born of two women: Betsy Healy, aattorney, and Serena Connelly, a social worker. Today, as has often been the case for the last twenty years, our staff (other than me) are all fierce intelligent women justice warriors. They fight every day to assist our clients obtain the legal status which is so key to our clients futures. 

When I was a lawyer in private practice, I was drawn to HRI as a volunteer because I knew that this organization was founded by strong, competent and compassionate women and I wanted to be a part of their work. It’s the reason I took pro bono cases from HRI, and the reason I was and remain a financial supporter.  I was thankful for the meaning it gave my life. Many of our volunteers experience this same satisfaction.

All of us are drawn to this work with a deep respect for our clients. Every day we see the resilience of the women who are escaping domestic violence; the pro-democracy activists, who have freely stood up against oppression; the children making the brave and harrowing journey to seek a life free of violence and abuse; and the brave LGBTQIA individuals fighting for the right to live their authentic life.  We approach this work in deep appreciation of bearing witness to their bravery and resourcefulness. 

The last year of fighting against the white nationalist agenda of our government during a global pandemic has been extremely difficult, but we are heartened by the example of our clients, and, of course the support we receive from our community. 

Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the primary proponents of the UDHR said: 

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” 

I am thankful to go to work every day with strong women who have taken up that challenge. This is what makes this organization great, and one which continues to live up to the vision of our founders. Stand with us!

With respect,

Bill Holston

Executive Director, HRI