1998 NCC News Archives

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CWSW Affirms Economic, Social Rights
as Crucial Human Rights

Who We Are

Church World Service works in more than 70 countries, including the U.S., in disaster relief, human development and refugee assistance. It is a ministry of the National Council of Churches, the nation's preeminent ecumenical organization which includes 34 Protestant and Orthodox member communions with a combined membership of nearly 52 million.

SAN FRANCISCO, March 19 -- Fifty years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a national campaign is seeking to redress the ways in which the United States has ignored economic and social rights, crucial parts of the 1948 declaration.

Speaking during the final day (March 19) of the Church World Service and Witness Unit Committee meeting here, Anuradha Mittal, coordinator of the "Economic Human Rights: The Time Has Come!" campaign, said the United States has integrated the language of "human rights" into its international diplomacy and politics.

But the United States has also chosen to overlook that the original document, signed following the Second World War by the newly created United Nations, proclaimed the interdependence and indivisibility of civil,-political and economic social rights.

The "The Time Has Come!" campaign, consisting of more than 170 U.S. grass-roots organizations, has mobilized activists to promote a full range of human rights that includes freedom from poverty and hunger.

"Poverty, sickness and illiteracy undermine human dignity as effectively as military thugs," said Mittal, who is also policy director of the San Francisco-based Institute for Food and Development Policy -- Food First.

Church World Service, the humanitarian assistance ministry of the National Council of Churches, is supporting the "The Time Has Come!" campaign. The campaign is seeking to make economic human rights "an explicit goal for the United States," Mittal said. "We want to go beyond a mere 50-year celebration of the Universal Declaration."

While the United States supported the 1948 Declaration, it has since rejected a series of other declarations. At a 1996 international housing rights conference in Istanbul, the United States was the sole nation that rejected the right of housing as a fundamental right. And at the World Food Summit in Rome the same year, the United States "stood alone in refusing to recognize the right to food," Mittal said.

"Is it coincidental that the only industrialized country to reject those economic and social rights also boasts the highest disparity between the rich and the poor, and the highest child poverty rates among the industrialized countries?" she asked. "Every statistic represents a personal tragedy and a political calamity. It shows starkly how far the United States has fallen short of its commitments under the Universal Declaration."

The "The Time Has Come" campaign, which has mobilized human rights, labor and social activists, as well as faith-based organizations, has organized ad hoc congressional hearings by the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the human rights implications of increasing poverty and hunger. The first scheduled hearings are planned May 2 in Oakland, Calif. Further hearings are tentatively scheduled in September in Washington, D.C.

The National Council of Churches 1997 General Assembly, meeting in November, voted unanimously to sponsor observances of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and called on the U.S. government to reaffirm its commitment to universal human rights.

The Assembly called on the Council’s units and member communions to celebrate 1998 as Universal Human Rights Year. It urged the U.S. government to work toward ratification and implementation of several other human rights documents including those dealing with the rights of women and children.

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