Human Rights Commission

Guest column by Karen Bellavance-Grace and Nural Mohammed in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 10, 2019

Today is Human Rights Day, celebrated annually in honor of the Dec. 10, 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That declaration, endorsed by 58 nations assembled in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly, outlined a set of foundational human rights all nations would adhere to. It’s a stunning document that has been translated into 500 languages.

Here in Northampton, the Human Rights Commission uses this aspirational declaration to guide its work in educating the community and promoting human rights, decency and compassion in our city.

Created in the aftermath of World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was championed by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a delegate to the UN and fierce advocate for human rights for all people. As chairwoman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, she worked with an international group to define the essential, universal human rights approved by the UN General Assembly.

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, the document “is a declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms, to be stamped with the approval of the General Assembly by formal vote of its members, and to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.”

The proclamation, at 1,775 words, is too long to reprint in its entirety in the newspaper today. But in celebration of Human Rights Day and as part of our mission to educate the community, we members of the city’s Human Rights Commission would like to call attention to the preamble:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore,

The General Assembly, Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

The document then goes on to list 30 specific articles that affirm equality and dignity of all people, proclaim each person’s right to life and liberty and a home country, prohibiting practices counter to those principles, such as discrimination, slavery and torture.

So what can we do on the local level to uphold the principles in this visionary document? Cities don’t wage war, engage in torture, deprive people of their right to free speech or strip them of their liberty without due process.

Yet, the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights knew that even once nations had signed on, it would take individuals across the world to rally around and bring its principles to life, stating, “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.”

They also knew it would be an ongoing process to ensure those rights were upheld. And even so, the world would fall woefully short, as human history shows. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to uphold the principles outlined in the declaration.

We invite all residents of Northampton to join us in promoting respect for the basic human rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our world, our country, our state, our city, and each of us as individuals, will be so much better for it.

The authors are members of the Northampton Human Rights Commission. Other members who co-authored this piece are Davina Miller, Megan Paik, Booker Bush, Rachel Maiore and Laurie Loisel.

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Dignity and Civility Pledge Poster

Excerpt from the Mayor's Administrative Code:

Human Rights Commission

Established

There shall be a human rights commission consisting of nine members. Membership shall, as far as it is practicable, be selected so as to ensure representation from those classes protected under state and federal law, including but not limited to, race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, veteran status, ancestry, sexual orientation or public benefit status.

Authorities and Responsibilities

The human rights commission shall act to promote human rights in the city of Northampton. The commission shall advocate and be an information resource for the rights guaranteed pursuant to local, state, and/or federal law on the basis of race or color, gender, physical or mental ability, religion, socio-economic status, ethnic or national origin, sexual identification or orientation, or age for all persons within the city of Northampton. The mayor and city council may refer issues pertaining to human rights to the commission for review and recommendation. The commission may organize programs and events to educate about human rights.

The Human Rights Commission is an advisory multiple-member body of the city.

Meetings

Generally meetings are held:

  1. 5:30 p.m.
  2. The fourth Wednesday of each month
  3. Puchalski Municipal Building, 212 Main Street, Council Chambers

Members

Commissioners are community volunteers appointed by the Mayor with confirmation by the City Council. Anyone residing in Northampton may apply. The commission can have as many as nine members.

  • Nural Mohammed
    Term ends, June 2020
  • Karen Belleavance- Grace- Co-Chair
    Term ends June 2022
  • Davina Miller 
    Term ends June 2022
  • Laurie Loisel                     Co-Chair                        Term ends June 2020
  • Booker Bush
    Term ends June 2020
  • Rachel Maiore                          Term ends June 2022
  • Megan Paik                              Term ends June 2022
  • VACANCIES (2)

Agendas & Minutes

Agendas are available prior to meetings. Minutes are available following approval.

Most Recent Agenda (PDF) | View All Agendas and Minutes

Resources