Significant advancements in the protection and realization of human rights have occurred since 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written, yet severe and growing violations persist across the world. South Los Angeles is one among many communities where human rights have long been either systematically denied or neglected. South LA also has a robust history of resilience, social justice movements, and innovative community organizing that have helped to build a common understanding of rights and freedoms, the first step in any human rights approach. On June 5th 2009, the First Annual South Los Angeles Health and Human Rights Conference was convened to help all of us learn how to apply a rights-based approach to improve health and well-being at home and beyond. We learned that a health and human rights approach means different things to different people but that, at its core, a health and human rights approach is based on key principles, listed below. Following the conference, residents and workers in South Los Angeles came together in workgroup meetings to move the health and human rights vision forward. Each workgroup focused on a specific dimension of human rights in south Los Angeles that impacts health, such as education, employment, housing, food security, etc. This process has convened over 1000 residents and workers in south Los Angeles to work together and reach two significant goals:
- The South LA Declaration of Health and Human Rights, which will be unveiled on December 10th, 2009, International Human Rights Day at Martin Luther King, Jr, Hospital from 530-8pm.
- The South LA Health and Human Rights Strategic Action Plan:
After December 10th, the community will develop a targeted strategic plan to implement and advocate for recommendations from the workgroup process that inform and impact policy decisions and directions, and to monitor progress towards greater health and human rights in south Los Angeles.
On December 9, 2010 the second South Los Angeles Health & Human Rights Conference was convened. Over 1000 people attended, including the Vice Minister of Health for El Salvador, resulting in building international bridges between South Los Angeles and other nations and neighborhoods struggling for health & human rights.
In March 2011, Right to Health Committees, comprised of South LA community residents and patients of St. John’s health centers convened. They have actively advocated for increased health services and improved health access since their inception. The Right to Health Committees were successful in swaying members of the United States Senate to oppose cuts to Medicaid and recently scored a major victory in the California Health Budget Subcommittee by defeating the Governor’s proposed cuts to community health centers.
Key Principles of a Human Rights Framework
Human Rights are basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. Examples of rights and freedoms include civil and political rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law; and economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to participate in culture, the right to health care, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education.
Human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated.
Universal because everyone is born with and possesses the same rights, regardless of where they live, their gender or race, or their religious, cultural or ethnic background.
Inalienable because people’s rights can never be taken away.
Indivisible and interdependent because all rights – political, civil, social, cultural and economic – are equal in importance and none can be fully enjoyed without the others. Denial of one right, like the right to health care or the right to housing, invariably impedes enjoyment of other rights.
All have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Rights-based approaches require a high degree of participation and commitment by communities and civil society groups, including but not limited to minorities, women, young people, and any other marginalized groups. And real participation requires a commitment to come together and respectfully share experiences and opinions.
We each have important roles to play in monitoring and holding ourselves and our government accountable for upholding human rights. Human rights are upheld by the rule of law and strengthened through legitimate claims for duty-bearers to be accountable to international standards.