Today is International Human Rights Day. To me, this day is a version of Christmas without the gifts and eggnog. Instead, in the early hours of the morning, I found myself sipping tea and watching one of my favourite professors Dr. Saladin Meckled-Garcia give a lecture on genocide denial. With specific focus on Holocaust denial, Dr. Meckled-Garcia speaks on this controversial but important topic in his UCL Lunch Hour Lecture.
When I was a student of Dr. Meckled-Garcia’s, I had the privilege of attending his lectures and reaped the benefits of his expansive inquiring mind. I would encourage you to watch the 40-minute lecture as he tackles a subject matter as delicate as Holocaust denial with effect and sound reasoning. But if you don’t watch the video, or at least not right away, there was one part of the lecture that really struck me. Dr. Meckled-Garcia discusses how denial of a genocide is further psychological pain inflicted upon the persecuted group, that does not even allow them to grieve the history of the loss of their ancestors and loved ones in peace. While I am paraphrasing what was said, that point landed on me right away. It made me think of the fact that while we make some progress, such as certain wars actually coming to an end, psychologically they can go on for generations.
This International Human Rights Day I invite you to reflect on your own human rights. When you even hear the term, what does it mean to you?
Human rights has defined me for as long as I can remember. When I first heard the term “children’s rights” when I was myself a child I became emblazoned on my path to represent that very concept. The same day I learned about children’s rights in school I wrote one of my first poems called “Listen Up.” It was about adults and how they do not take children seriously. I recited it in class, and I meant every single word. Then, fast-forward roughly 15 years later, I pursued the Master’s at UCL under the direction of Dr. Meckled-Garcia and I specialized in children’s rights, creating my own theory, The Child-Centric Framework. As I sat in Dr. Meckled-Garcia’s office discussing my dissertation he asked me a direct but harrowing question,
“Arielle, why children’s rights?”
I looked at him, glued to the chair in the middle of the room, the energy in the room becoming thick, the space sucked out like a vacuum and everything around me spinning.
I couldn’t answer.
It’s not that I didn’t have an answer, I had a million, but I knew the real answer and I was not emotionally or mentally prepared to be honest. So silence was my answer.
If I could have answered him with everything I know now I would have, but a decade has gone by since that day. And since time has passed I now have the ability to properly respond to that question.
I chose children’s rights because it seemed logical to me that promoting children’s rights and creating awareness would alter people’s perception of children and therefore their treatment of them. I chose children’s rights because there is a silent epidemic going on where children are abused and little to sometimes nothing (as was the case with Gabriel Fernandez) is done to help them successfully. I chose children’s rights because I identified a global mental health crisis where serious problems such as depression were stemming from childhood trauma. But most importantly, I chose children’s rights because of my own childhood trauma.
After I left UCL with a human rights mind I entered my own human rights nightmare but that did not deter me from my perception of human rights… it just made me go harder to fight for them. Having my rights stripped from me in the manner in which they were was a dehumanizing experience, a confusing as fuck experience, and one that I will never forget. I have to remember because unfortunately I am far from the only person who has gone through my experience and there are so many other human rights horror stories out there.
So today, in the spirit of human rights awareness and promoting active conscious thought, I would encourage you to watch Dr. Meckled-Garcia’s lecture on genocide denial. I hope that it opens your eyes to a new way of thinking about human rights. I also hope that you use this day to reflect on what human rights means to you, even if only for a moment.
See, the thing about human rights is most people only call upon them when they are challenged. Most people only delve into what they truly mean once they require some form of enforcement. But the other thing about human rights is, the mere knowledge of their existence and of charters, such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, equips you with knowledge and power. So, the best thing we can do, in my opinion, is educate ourselves.
Belief is a powerful tool in life, and so is the belief in the power of human rights. If we didn’t believe in a set of standards of behaviour to conduct ourselves in society then we wouldn’t have rights, we would have complete mayhem in its place.
To quote myself in 2012, “Let us not get so comfortable with the rights that we believe ourselves to have that we jeopardize the rights our children will enjoy.”