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Lt. Governor Calls on Montanans to Honor International Human Rights Day Sunday, Dec. 10th

By Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger
Date: Friday, December 1, 2006
Contact: Judy Nielsen, HIV Programs Coordinator, DPHHS, 406-444-4744
Gayle Shirley, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, 406-444-2596

The Lt Governor John Bohlinger, along with Governor's Council on Civil Rights, call on Montana citizens to honor International Human Rights Day on Sunday, December 10. On that day in 1948, most nations in the world community joined in ratifying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in recognition of the political, civil, economic, social, and cultural human rights that inherently belong to all individuals.

"Human rights are the most fundamental and inalienable of rights," said Lt. Governor John Bohlinger. "It is not the prerogative of governments to bestow these rights; rather, it is the responsibility and duty of all governments to uphold and honor the human rights of their citizens."

Christine Kaufmann, a member of the council, agrees, "Governments do not dole out human rights to deserving people. They have the responsibility to ensure, protect and defend the rights that all their citizens already have, simply because they are human beings."

In the aftermath of World War II, world leaders recognized that Germany had broken no laws in the murder of its own citizens. Eager to stop future holocausts, the United States helped lead the effort to draft the document, and appointed first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to represent the U.S. on the project.

A 1997 survey by the Center on Human Rights Education in Atlanta indicates that only 8% of Adults know about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Given the United States' leading role, it's surprising how few Americans know about this document," said Marilyn Kramer, another council member. "We want Montanans to be informed about their rights and to understand what they can expect from government."

Although many of the civil and political rights acknowledged in the UDHR mirror the guarantees of the U.S. and Montana Constitutions, others are more challenging for the United States. Articles 23 and 25, for example recognize the following rights:

"Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work."
"Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection."
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services. . ."

"If citizens understood and demanded their human rights, this country and this state would be a fairer and more equitable place to live," said Dorothy Eck, another member of the council. Council members noted that the recent increase in the minimum wage was a small step toward the recognition of economic human rights in Montana demanded by the voters through the initiative process.

The UDHR and its 30 articles do not have the force of law. The principles are enforced by applying diplomatic and moral pressure on governments who violate them. However, the United Nations has developed two legally binding covenants based on the UDHR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Although both were signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the latter has never been ratified by the U.S. Senate.