International Human Rights Advocate Michael Posner Headlines HRC 30th Anniversary Event
At a special program celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Human Rights Center, Professor Michael Posner, a former top U.S. State Department official and well-known human rights advocate and scholar, marked the occasion with a celebration of the progress made on human rights in the last three decades and exhortation to continue to build on that work.
Posner, who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor during the Obama Administration, is a professor of ethics and finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business and director of the Center for Business and Human Rights.
Posner began his presentation with a nod to the Law School and the Human Rights Center for leading the way “in creating this link between academic scholarship, and research and teaching, and advocacy” in the human rights arena. He singled out the contributions of the HRC’s founder and longtime director, David Weissbrodt, who recently retired after 40 years as a professor at the Law School.
“David, I salute you,” he said. “You have really been an enormous role model for so many. In the early 1980s, I was asked to come up to Yale Law School and help set up a law clinic there, and we looked to Minnesota and what you did. It is a very important part of the human rights movement in this country.”
Posner also commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The Declaration of Human Rights broke new ground in two ways,” he said. “One, it universalized the notion of human rights. … What it said was that we all have rights by virtue of our humanity. We don’t wait for a government to give them to us. Every one of us, every human being on this planet, is entitled to certain basic protections. … The second thing it did was internationalize rights. It said that these are no longer the province of the privilege of states. It’s not just for your government to tell you rights you are entitled to, there is a collective understanding among states that states that go below that minimum threshold, states that are involved in torture, that are involved in political killing—those states are no longer immune from international criticism.”
Posner said that he is optimistic with the human rights progresses that have been made in the 70 years since the Declaration was signed and in the 30 years since the HRC was founded.
“My response to cynics … is that working on human rights is not a sport for the short-winded, it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint; and perhaps it’s even an ultramarathon with no clear finish line,” he said. “The repetition of human rights abuses should motivate us to do more, not wave the white flag of despair.”
Posner next turned to how to effectively advance human rights in the “face of the current retreat in U.S. leadership in the world.” He stressed the importance of making the case that the United States’ continued commitment to the values of human rights and democracy advances its national interests. He also emphasized continuing to promote an international legal order for human rights issues.
“As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of the Human Rights Center, we must remember, and celebrate, how much we have accomplished, … but also double down in understanding the great challenges that remain and especially right now when these values are being challenged,” Posner concluded.
For more about the Human Rights Center and its excellent work, visit the Center website.