On Dec. 10, over 150 Maryland Legal Aid staff recognized Human Rights Day by participating in seven workshops across the state designed to share information on how human rights law could be applied to day-to-day case work. The event featured a three-part presentation which discussed how human rights values may frame the nonprofit law firm’s advocacy, how to apply international treaties to advocate for clients, and how Legal Aid’s work fits into a growing movement seeking to recognize economic human rights in the United States. Presentations were followed by a discussion of four case studies from Legal Aid’s major practice areas: Child abuse, housing, unemployment insurance, and family law.
According to Frederick office staff attorney Alecia Frisby, who served as a facilitator with Hughesville office chief attorney Seri Wilpone at the Easton office: “I received several excited comments about inserting human rights into administrative arguments and got an overall feeling that people had become newly energized about the human rights framework by the presentation.” Wilpone added: “Attendees were consistent in saying that the training helped them see how to use a human rights argument, both in subtle and explicit ways. The idea of leading an argument with a statement of common value, e.g., the opportunity for children and mothers to live free from violence, was something that was helpful.”
Events were also held in Easton, Annapolis, Riverdale, Hagerstown, Towson, with two workshops in Baltimore. “This was a terrific collaborative effort between management and staff and highlighted the talent we have in our organization,” said chief counsel Shawn Boehringer. “The materials produced were top-notch and reusable, and all facilitators worked hard to plan and prepare for the event and make it meaningful.”
The Maryland Legal Aid workshops corresponded with Human Rights Day events around the world. The United Nations theme for the day honored “Human Rights Defenders who Act to End Discrimination.” “Statements made by U.N. leaders on the day were relevant to our effort at Legal Aid and can serve to inspire and motivate us,” Boehringer said.
In his statement, U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared that “Human rights are the foundation of freedom, peace, development, and justice. Laws to protect and promote human rights are indispensable. But quite often, progress comes down to people, courageous women and men, striving to protect their own rights and the rights of others, determined to make rights real in people’s lives.”
In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay commented on the Human Right to Healthcare: “Around 100 million people are forced into poverty each year because they have to pay for health care. Poor women are up to 20 times less likely than the richest 20 percent of women to give birth in the presence of a skilled health worker capable of saving their lives.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed a Human Rights Day Town
Hall held at the State Department in Washington. Secretary Clinton noted: “We commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a vote of 48-0 in the United Nations, the very core concept that each of us, all of us, are born with equal and inalienable rights. Those words hearken back to our own Declaration of Independence, which was such an incredible, historical event in addition to representing the very best of our values and aspirations.”
“Our Human Rights Day commemoration provides a segue into our 100th anniversary celebration, the theme for which will be ‘Advancing Human Rights and Justice for All: 1911-2011,”Boehringer said. “Baltimore CINA chief attorney Joan Little has been hard at work spearheading the planning for our next big human rights event–a symposium jointly sponsored by the law schools at the University of Maryland and University of Baltimore. The symposium will provide another exciting opportunity to enhance our Human Rights framework.”