Inspiring Work on Human Rights


Helen Chauncey

The Coexistence Initiative

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A source of inspiration is one that I've actually touched on briefly, but it's worth stressing. The human rights movement in many ways came into being as a gleam in the eye over 50 years ago. I had a vision to create a set of standards that are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that were way ahead of their times, in fact their still ahead of our own times. If one goes back and reads that document, if you haven't read it recently, there is a certain amount of it where you say, oh we are doing this, and a certain amount of it, you say this is still vision, we are not there yet. Given how visionary that document was in 1948, it was almost the equivalent of saying there should be peace in the world, period we're done. The peace movement would very much like to not only say, but to have peace in the world, we're done. We are nowhere close to that, and yet human rights movements stayed the course.

Year after year, decade after decade, it worked to embed it's values, and slot them into every opportunity that it could find- newly emerging nations, political movements such as the civil rights movement in the US. This was an equal opportunity need around the world, even for international law, all major players, including the US, the US was in some cases reluctantly have become to sign on. We are now 50 years plus into the progress of the human rights movement, and we are now really beginning to get to that goal that I mentioned a little earlier that is the litmus test goal for the CI. When we get there, and that's probably another 50 years down the line. The goal is the internalization or the embedding if we can sort of extract that word back from the Iraq war and use it to embed it into our real life. We're embedding those values, and not only expecting them or hoping for them, but demanding them. I see the human rights movement in that sense as highly inspirational because it was willing to have a vision early on that was way ahead of its time, and then stayed the course in such a way for those values to work in practice. They have over time, and are increasingly becoming embedded in our daily lives.