Today, more than 70 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, various unheard-of disasters and crises such as pandemic and climate change are facing humanity. The Declaration of Human Rights highlights that all people are equal before the law and should be ensured with their human rights, the basic rights that they deserve as humans. Unfortunately, however, it is not equally distributed to all people of the world in reality.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the whole world, the issue of inequality, which has been a long-standing issue for the vulnerable, came to the surface.

As numerous people are dying due to the lack of medical services, and many lost all their life support in one moment, the meaning of “Human right,” which is basic and natural for human beings, seems unfamiliar to people.

In commemoration of World Human Rights Day 2020, ASEZ held an online forum to promote the meaning and impact of human rights.

The forum was attended by 200 university students from universities in North America—Lehman College, University of Albany, Old Dominion University, and Tufts University—and professors, including New York State Assemblyman Nader J. Sayegh, Albany County District Attorney David Soares, Tufts University Dr. David G. Proctor, Old Dominion University Professor Chris Zajchowski, and University of Albany Professor David Guinn.

This forum, consisting of presentations and questions by ASEZ members and panelists, was broadcast live through YouTube. The panelists reflected on human rights in their respective fields and suggested ways to ensure human rights for all.

Elias Martone, the leader of the ASEZ SUNY Old Westbury University Club, explained in his presentation that human rights where every human being deserves to be treated with respect are essential to make our communities, countries, and the world more just, inclusive and peaceful.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares noted that ex-offenders have trouble accessing to good employment, federal student loans, and government housing, adding that the criminal justice system is at the center of the recognition of human rights, the recognition of the rights of the accused and that of victims who are in opposing relationship. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of providing people with information and introduced diverse activities to promote human right protection in the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.

Dr. David Proctor, the Senior Lecturer, Department of History at Tufts University, reminded that infectious disease have helped strengthen the government’s responsibility to take care of community members, and he pointed out through historical facts that the concept of human rights has also been developed as a response to uncontrollable diseases. He added that the Declaration of Human Rights provides a standard for improving everyone’s quality of life in the current pandemic.

Dr. Chris Zajchowski, Professor of Park, Recreation and Tourism Studies at Old Dominion University, explained the right to health and well-being specified in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in terms of air quality. Emphasizing that the air we breathe every day is inextricably linked with human rights, he informed that air pollution is something that differentiates the rights of countless people.

He also stated that according to WHO, around 4.2 million people die every year as a result of air pollution. He added that education, imagination, and advocacy are essential to solve this problem, and young people play a pivotal role in making it happen.

Dr. David Guinn, Public Service Professor at the University of Albany, explained the importance of advocating human rights. He said that the Universal Declaration was not promulgated by law, but it has brought forth support for the human rights of each country and region and has promulgated conventions as well. He explained that having influence on individuals means changing the social system, and for that, we need to create influence by continuing to advocate human rights.

New York State Assemblyman Nader Sayegh said that these activities provide opportunities for policymakers like him to start with diverse programs in their district. Mentioning that ASEZ is making positive efforts and energy for the vulnerable and for those who are deprived of their rights, he said that ASEZ set an example for young students, showing them how to exert good influence for the success and well-being in any community.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who played an instrumental role in adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, said, “Universal Human rights begin in small places, so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.” All of us and all individuals in each family, school, and workplace must hold the conviction that all human beings are equal in rights. All of us and all individuals in each family, school, and workplace must hold the conviction that all human beings are equal in rights.