This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The context of “freedom from want and freedom from fear” animated this fundamental document that realizes the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
However, in spite of such noble commitments, millions of people across the world have no hope. Their sense of purpose and happiness is blurred by helplessness to overcome inequality, fear, poverty and disease.
In 2007, an estimated 420,000 children were newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of these infections occurred in Africa where AIDS is beginning to reverse decades of steady progress in child survival. In a slum in Nairobi where I visited two years ago, nearly 25 out of every 100 die before their 5th birthday. In countries where medical services are available, the transmission of HIV from mother to child is almost entirely preventable. However the medical coverage levels are remarkably low in most resource-limited countries. In the US and other high-income countries, mother-to-child transmission has been virtually eliminated thanks to effective voluntary testing and counseling, access to antiretroviral therapy, safe delivery practices, and the widespread availability and safe use of breast-milk substitutes.
In Haiti, child mortality is the highest in the Western Hemisphere. According to Partners In Health, 8 children out of every 100 die before their 5th birthday, mainly for lack of food, clean water, and access to health services. Each year, over 22,000 children under 5 die from preventable causes including malnutrition, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria.
Likewise, the health situation in Zimbabwe, which has been declining for years, is now untenable. Just over the last two weeks, a complete collapse of the health system and sanitation infrastructure has given way to a major cholera epidemic spreading throughout the country, and a breakdown in delivery of medications for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and chronic illness. The government’s obstruction of food and critical aid to millions is speeding up the massive loss of life.
In Darfur, the violence and bloodshed continues more than four years after the US Congress took unprecedented steps to recognize the ongoing atrocities as genocide. In 2008 alone, at least 300,000 people have been displaced and there have been 43 reported aerial attacks by the Government of Sudan. Darfur peace initiatives have failed and the current peacekeeping mission is still largely ineffective.
The list of inequality is long. Millions of people across this world are unable to exert any level of change over their circumstances.
This era of increasing global connectivity is enabling each of us to reach around the world farther, faster and cheaper than ever before. We are one people—global citizens sharing a common generation and a common Earth. We are bound by a common goal to live life with purpose and happiness. As responsible global citizens, we cannot ignore these things we would rather forget. If there is a child in Uganda who is HIV infected, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. It matters to me because simple interventions could save the lives of thousands of children each year.
Why should each of us be responsible global citizens? The answer is hope. Hope is as vital to life as the very oxygen that we breathe. Hope helps people to live longer and gives us all a greater quality of life. Working to equalizing individual life opportunities of our brothers and sisters worldwide honors the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit and brings hope to those who have nothing else.
As Armenians, and members of the Diaspora, our responsibility is twofold. Not only do we have to be responsible global citizens, we have to work hard to end genocide denial and secure unequivocal U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. We must not think of these two things as mutually exclusive.
We must never tire to create hope. Robert Kennedy eloquently stated over forty years ago, “These imperfections of human justice and inadequacy of human compassion mark the limit of our ability to use knowledge for the well-being of our fellow human beings throughout the world. And therefore they call upon common qualities of conscience and indignation, a shared determination to wipe away the unnecessary sufferings of our fellow human beings at home and around the world.”
So this New Year, as we resolve to better ourselves through diet and exercise, we should resolve to be better global citizens. Here are some suggestions:
Be a learner: Keep informed of what is happening to fellow citizens so that we can educate and spread awareness to others about the issues that affect our brothers and sisters abroad. Set your Internet browser’s homepage to BBC, attend lectures and talks about issues that are happening around the world. If you’re a student, spend a semester studying abroad; consider a life-changing, alternative spring break vacation to better the lives of others.
Be a giver: Donating to good causes and organizations doing work on the ground in communities (such as Médecins Sans Frontières) can be a very effective way of meeting your responsibility as a global citizen. With the Against Malaria Foundation, you can buy mosquito nets to stop children from dying of malaria every 30 seconds. The United Nations Children’s Fund allows you to buy high energy biscuits which prevent malnutrition, bicycles for health workers to reach children in remote villages or a water pump for a community to prevent thousands of children from dying every day from diseases related to unsafe water. If you’re a shopaholic, buy “product red” merchandise to help stop the spread HIV worldwide.
Be a doer: As responsible global citizens we have a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless. Sign up to receive action alerts from organizations that advocate for better U.S. policies and great accountability (such as ONE Campaign or Physicians for Human Rights). Call (202) 224-3121 day or night to leave a message for your elected Member of Congress. Write to the President-Elect Obama’s team about what matters most to you by visiting: www.change.gov
Our action takes on critical importance at a time of global financial crisis and competing interests for very limited resources. These times can bring us closer—not to grieve about our losses but to acknowledge the abundance so many of us enjoy and to accept the responsibility of sharing it.
As we work to meet our obligation to this global society, we must remember that our hard work and shared dedication is only strengthened when we work together. Our voices are louder when we speak together and the hope that we can create is greater when we create it together.
The Armenian Weekly
Dec. 27, 2008