Human Rights Spoken Here

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeff Wright

Eugene enjoys plenty of monikers, including Sister City, Track Town, and World's Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors. Now, some citizen and government activists think it's time to add another name: Human Rights City.

On Friday, the city's Human Rights Commission will sponsor a symposium that looks at why and how international human rights standards can be applied at the local level.

Event coordinator Ken Neubeck calls Eugene a perfect community to take up the human rights banner. "People here speak about these issues with ease and knowledge," he said.

But what applicability do international human rights standards - which address such issues as torture, hunger and shelter - have to do with civic affairs in Eugene, Oregon?

Neubeck and other advocates say the relevance is mostly intangible but real: A city that formally embraces such standards is likely to be more accountable, more transparent, and more likely to be proactive in addressing citizens' needs.

"It's about improving people's quality of life and helping them develop their full capabilities as human beings," Neubeck said. "There's no reason why this shouldn't go on in every city, town and village in the world."

On a practical level, embracing human rights standards could affect the tenor of city discussions on issues as varied as police behavior, immigrant rights, living wages, health care, domestic violence or access for people with disabilities, Neubeck said.

It's not the city's job to, say, feed the hungry, Neubeck said. "But maybe there are some policies the city can adopt that could make it easier for others to feed people."

The United States, he said, often fails to address issues such as poverty and hunger that are considered to be violations of universal rights in other nations. Much like global warming, human rights is a topic that some local communities are taking action on rather than wait for the federal government to take the lead, he said.

Neubeck said infusing human rights in city governance dovetails nicely with Mayor Kitty Piercy's Sustainable Commission, which identifies social equity as one of three core values. …