Monday, March 23, 2009

Symposium to Examine Human Rights in Times of Threat March 27

“Human Rights in an Age of Insecurity” symposium
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 27
Speakers Auditorium, Georgia State Student Center, 44 Courtland St., Atlanta

In times of military or economic threat, public fear can breed indifference when it comes to human rights issues, says Michael Galchinsky, professor of English at Georgia State University, who is coordinating a symposium to address what happens to human rights in democracies that are under threat.

In times of national security threats, democracies have typically blocked the public’s right to information, expanded government surveillance and launched attacks on freedom of speech and the rights of due process and habeas corpus. International human rights issues are often ignored as well, Galchinsky said.

“People’s fear sometimes makes them consider human rights to be luxuries rather than entitlements,” he said. “We can see this in real concrete ways: Human rights watchdog groups get less money from the public at this time, they are able to place their information in fewer newspapers, and they have the ear of fewer government officials.”

What makes this especially difficult, Galchinsky said, is that at times of increased insecurity, human rights groups are most needed. With recent economic woes taking center stage, advocacy groups are now also needed to keep an eye on the financial welfare of those in the United States and abroad.

“In our country, we’ve often talked about civil and political rights, but not so much economic, social and cultural rights, which are a big deal in other parts of the world, especially the underdeveloped countries,” he said. “With the global economy tanking, it’s a good time to begin thinking about economic rights and social welfare.”

The symposium aims to address economic and other human rights issues from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint, inviting speakers who have extensive legal knowledge as well as those who have been involved as activists. Keynote speaker Elisa Massimino is CEO and executive director of Human Rights First and has been an advocate for international human rights for nearly 20 years.

In conjunction with the daylong symposium, a photographic exhibit titled “In Black and White: Political Violence in Argentina (1969-1985)” will be on display in the Gallery Lounge, Room 346 of the Student Center, March 22 through 27.

The time is ripe for examining human rights issues in Atlanta. The city is in the midst of finalizing plans to build the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and Georgia State is creating its own Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

“It makes a lot of sense that this conversation is happening here in Atlanta with its strong history of civil rights, and it was Dr. King who sought very much to link civil rights at home to human rights everywhere,” Galchinsky said. “We feel like this is the time to be having this conversation, and it needs to be in Atlanta.”

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