Series focuses on international human rights

July 16, 2011

A three-week speaker series on human rights ended on June 21 with a look at the future of disability policy in the United States. The series was sponsored by Dr. Cristina Berdichevsky's General Studies course, "Human Rights in Haiti," and the General Studies Department assisted by providing interpreters.

Analía Banfi, an expert on human rights in Haiti who works for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, opened the series on June 7. Her presentation addressed the work of the commission, which is under the Organization of American States, as well as its involvement in Haiti within the framework of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Theon Gruber, a researcher at the Howard University Center on Race and Wealth, was the second presenter, on June 14. The focus of his presentation was race, poverty, and human rights in the African Diaspora.

University Ombuds Suzy Rosen Singleton, who is an attorney, was the third and final presenter, on June 21. Singleton discussed disability and deaf rights within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She looked at how disability policy in the U.S. might change if Congress votes to sign onto/ratify the measure.

Congress is currently working on ratifying the United Nations Convention on Rsights of People with Disabilities. A two-thirds vote is needed to ratify the convention. If this is accomplished, the United States will be able to sit on the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international monitoring body that guides countries in developing disability laws. Ratifying the convention won't directly change any laws, but it will strengthen existing ones, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Although not all of the presentations related directly to Haiti, they addressed broad concepts that students could apply to the situation in Haiti, said Berdichevsky, a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

"It was very interesting to learn about deaf rights within the United Nations' Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities," said student Dominic Harrison of Singleton's presentation. Harrison said he felt that the discussion of both the convention, which is recognized internationally, and the ADA, which is national in scope, applied to him specifically because they each have an influence on his language access, quality of education, and other aspects of his life.

Berdichevsky looks forward to sharing her passion for rights and international issues facing people with disabilities, particularly in Latin America and Africa, through organizing more guest speaker series.

--Tanya Sturgis, student writer