Emory Report
October 27, 2008
Volume 61, Number 9



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October 27
, 2008
‘Advancing the Consensus’ on global human rights

by Liz Chilla

“All of us need to exert a renewed effort to ensure that we as Americans will be able to celebrate, and not apologize for, our compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said former President Jimmy Carter.

Carter delivered the opening remarks for “Advancing the Consensus,” a conference organized by Emory Law students in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The three-day conference held at Emory Law brought together a distinguished group of human rights lawyers, scholars, practitioners and activists to discuss the UDHR in light of its successes and shortcomings.

Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, the UDHR marked the beginning of a new global consensus that put human rights at the forefront of international concerns.

“There were no negative votes,” said Carter in reference to the declaration’s adoption. “It was the atrocities of World War II, especially the Nazi Holocaust, that made this necessary and also universally accepted. But it’s sobering to realize that right now, it would be absolutely impossible for the world community to approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“Advancing the Consensus” — a joint venture of Emory Law students from the Emory Public Interest Committee (EPIC), the Emory International Law Society, and the Emory International Law Review — centered on three main themes currently challenging the state of human rights: environmentalism, globalization and religion. Through workshops, panels and interactive roundtable discussions, the conference organizers sought to establish an open dialogue about the UDHR and the future of human rights.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient, lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, a keynote speaker for the conference, shared her views on human rights globally and in her home country of Iran. She argued that Islam and human rights can coexist — a topic that is widely debated in Islamic states and around the world.

“Human rights is an international value system,” she said. “It has nothing to do with the East or the West, with Muslims or Christianity, but belongs to the entire human race.”

Ebadi challenged Emory students to educate themselves on human rights issues throughout the world. “You young American people are the future of this world and can make it a better place,” she said.

The conference’s final keynote address was delivered by Upendra Baxi, a law professor at the Warwick School of Law in the U.K.

In the spirit of human rights, several efforts were taken to make the conference sustainable, such as limiting energy consumption and cutting back on unnecessary plastic and paper waste. The students also planted two trees on the law school grounds to offset the carbon footprint produced by the conference.