The 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) that took place in Glasgow, Scotland from October to November 2021 was, in many ways, a historic event. It was the first COP convening to formally acknowledge the role of fossil fuels in climate change—a significant step in a global climate discourse filled with conflicting narratives and agendas surrounding fossil fuel use. In addition, 200 countries adopted an unprecedented agreement to “phase down” their use of coal as an energy source. Despite the historic nature of these developments, these outcomes have faced strong criticism from a wide array of stakeholder groups, and one area of dissension centers around the issue of environmental justice. While situations such as the Flint water crisis and Standing Rock have raised concern about environmental justice within the U.S., conversations emerging from COP26 pose questions of environmental justice at an international scale. While COP remains a crucial space for international cooperation in the fight against climate disaster, there is notable consternation over the unique burdens that various policies may place on poorer nations and those most vulnerable to adverse climate events. The nature of the debate that has unfolded brings the complicated relationship between human rights, environmental justice, and environmental stewardship into focus, and reveals that the path forward is riddled with complexity.
Here at Facing History, we see awareness months as opportunities to deepen our knowledge of and attention to key histories and related areas of contemporary concern. However, the focus on these issues during one particular month can further marginalize the very concerns we aim to elevate. With this in mind, what follows is an invitation to engage with important themes raised by Global Human Rights Month this December and throughout all of the months of the year.
While the concept of “human rights” figures prominently in the domestic policy and public life of many nations around the world, history reveals that the United States took a decidedly different path. As historian Carol Anderson details in her book Eyes Off the Prize (2003), the nation’s use of the concept reflects its history of racism—one in which narrower notions of “civil rights” gained currency in domestic affairs over and against the broader conceptions of “human rights” that remain central to the nation’s foreign policy. Having observed the inability of the U.S. government to uphold even the “civil rights” ostensibly guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution and legislation, a series of African American leaders have nevertheless invoked the language of “human rights” to underscore the urgency of their situation on the international stage. These figures—including W.E.B. DuBois, William Patterson, Malcolm X, and Tommie Smith—have played vital roles in an underacknowledged story of Black people leading global antiracist movements while also pushing their own country to be better. Moreover, this multigenerational story of vision, persistence, and recurring difficulty brings the historic significance of the recently announced United Nations investigation into human rights abuses against Black people around the world into sharper focus.
During Universal Human Rights Month this December, educators have an opportunity to engage their students in focused exploration of the assaults on human dignity that abound in our own national contexts and around the globe. Yet educators also have an opportunity to highlight some of the parallel efforts to protect human lives and dignity that arise in the face of violence and injustice.
Topics: Human Rights
"Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places close to home-so close and
so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world." —Eleanor Roosevelt
Each December, we observe Universal Human Rights Month—an opportunity to reflect upon historical and ongoing struggles for human rights around the globe. Yet understandings of human rights are constantly evolving, raising new questions, and calling into question aspects of social life that some of us take for granted. In the following five books published within the last year, scholars, a biographer, and a memoirist reflect upon different dimensions of human rights, offering educators a number of areas for further exploration of this important subject. Below, the publisher of each title outlines what is to be found within each book:
Since 2010, January 11th has marked National Human Trafficking Awareness Day—and is part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month which runs throughout January in the United States. In a recent interview, I spoke with Danny Papa—a New Jersey-based educator who inspired his middle school students to take leading roles in the movement to end human trafficking from the schoolhouse to the state house. In addition to serving as a K-12 Supervisor for Jefferson Township Public Schools, Papa serves as President of the Board of Trustees and Education Committee Chair for the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
After I read the news, I often feel powerless. What can any of us do to prevent genocide, to dismantle structural inequalities, or to stop the other horrors we hear about in the news? The massive scale of the problems in the world can feel overwhelming, but we shouldn’t let it be paralyzing. My own involvement in activism changed dramatically in high school, when a human rights activist inspired me to hope.
Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History is an ongoing series with Listenwise. This series connects Facing History’s themes with today’s current events using public radio to guide and facilitate discussions around the social issues of our time. We will take a look at the current responses to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Over the last few weeks, South Africa has been rocked by xenophobic violence.
According to The New York Times, approximately five million immigrants have settled in South Africa since the end of the apartheid in 1994. Many are refugees, or are pursuing economic opportunities in the country, which has become a relatively stable multiracial democracy. Many native South Africans are greeting these newcomers with prejudice, hatred, and violence—destroying local businesses and in some cases committing murder. Today, South Africa’s immigrant population lives in fear.
Unfortunately, the trend is not new. In 2007, a year before xenophobic attacks would break out nationwide, violence erupted in the small township of Zwelethemba, about two hours from Cape Town.
A Facing History teacher at the local high school recognized that his community was in crisis.