Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Photo courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt Library via Wikipedia Commons.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt knew what she was talking about when she said these words.  She was the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and even wrote part of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.  Eleanor Roosevelt was, of course, also the mother of six.

Mothers have an important role to play in making the world a better place for all children.   This is not to minimize the roles of fathers or grandparents or guardians or anyone charged with the responsibility of raising children. But I do believe wholeheartedly that mothers have a special role.  It is our job to change the world, one kid at a time.

Often mothers are the most vocal advocates for the rights of their children.  This is true whether you are a mom trying to get your special needs child the services she deserves or, like Shane Bauer’s mom Cindy Hickey, trying to get your adult son and his friends out of unlawful detention in Iran.  There are many examples of mom/human rights advocates around the world,
from the Mothers of the Plazo de Mayo in Argentina to the Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia.

I, personally, had the chance to meet and interview mothers involved with the organization ANFASEP  (National Association of Relatives of the Kidnapped, Arrested, and Disappeared in Peru).  These are mothers whose family members have disappeared in the highlands near Ayacucho during the long, violent conflict in Peru.

For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out what happened to their family members and where their remains are so that they can give them a proper burial.  One of the women we talked to had four family members who were disappeared.  She wants to know where they are and who killed them.  “We’re looking for justice,” she said, “and we want to know the truth.”  As Angelica Mendoza (“Mama Angelica”, the President of ANFASEP) told us, “We’ll never forget about all the killings.  We’ll fight to the end.”

Mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Peru. Photo by author.

Eleanor Roosevelt implied that the most important place for human rights to begin is at home.  I agree.  But what exactly are human rights?

Human rights are the standards that allow all people – each and every one of the 7 billion of us on this planet – to live with dignityfreedom, equalityjustice and peace.

Aren’t these the principles that govern the way that we want our children to be treated as they make their way in the world?  And, in a nutshell, aren’t these also the core values that every parent wants to teach their children?

The secret to a better world lies not only in protecting our children from human rights abuses, but also by making them better citizens of the world.  Caring about others (people they know as well as people they will never meet), judging right from wrong, speaking out against bullying or racist comments.

Dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace. These are the human rights that are essential to the full development of each child as an individual, as well as to the community in which they live.  Teaching our children these values is the human rights work that changes the world.

Pictured below are my three reasons to work for human rights.  I look forward to hearing about yours!

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Jennifer Prestholdt of Minnesota, USA. Jennifer, an international human rights lawyer, is currently in Geneva on business today.  This post is the first of our new “Human Rights” column. You can also find her on her blog, Human Rights Warrior or on Twitter @JPrestholdt.

Photo credit of the children to the author. 

Jennifer Prestholdt (USA)

Jennifer Prestholdt is a lawyer and the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a volunteer-based human rights organization that works locally, nationally and internationally. Her work in human rights takes her around the world, but she spends most of her time in Minneapolis, MN, where she lives with her children (two sons and one daughter), her husband, an elderly cat and a dwarf hamster.

As Jennifer’s kids are now all in school (1st, 4th and 6th grades), she is finally finding more time to do the things that she used to love to do, especially running, writing and knitting. Jennifer loves to travel and has had the dubious distinction of having been accidentally locked in a bathroom on five continents so far. Australia and Antarctica await!

In January 2011, Jennifer made a New Year’s Resolution to start writing about her experiences in order to share with her children the lessons learned from 15 years of work in human rights. The result is her personal blog, The Human Rights Warrior. The name comes from her son Simon, who was extremely disappointed to learn that his mother is a lawyer, not a warrior.

You can find her on her blog The Human Rights Warrior or on Twitter @Jprestholdt.

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