Student Leadership Initiative in Costa Rica

The Embrey Human Rights Program’s Student Leadership Initiative is traveling to Costa Rica in May 2014 to investigate specific human rights issues. Eighteen students attended lectures during the Spring 2014 term in preparation for the trip. They will complete an independent research project and present their findings at a symposium. The student-led SLI was founded in 2010 to create opportunities to pursue human rights research and service-learning projects.

Human rights are everyone’s responsibility

An update from Derek, a junior majoring in finance and economics:

Today marks our third full day in Costa Rica. After enjoying a breakfast of the fresh, bountiful fruits of this natural wonderland, representatives from Youth for Human Rights and the Foundation for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights visited our group.

The two representatives were a powerful reminder of how neglected human rights issues are. I am confident that there is much good in the world and that people would support human rights given the chance. However, most people are bystanders simply because they do not realize what is going on.

I went on this trip to gain a better understanding of human rights. Having never taken a course in human rights before, I knew I had a duty to my fellow human beings to learn more and become cognizant of these issues. From my experience thus far, I have had my eyes opened to not only what human rights are, but also to what it means to be human.

In most cases of human rights violations, one small group oppresses another small group: the majority of people are bystanders. We need to educate people if we hope to instill in them the moral courage to stand up for the rights of others, and we often forget that it only takes one person to inspire change in the minds of everyone. Yet, people need to be educated in human rights before they can start to make a difference.

Education is the first step in changing people’s attitudes, and Youth for Human Rights is taking action to educate the next generation. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights enumerates 30 fundamental human rights. Part of Youth for Human Rights’ curriculum explains these rights in plain language for children to understand.

Costa Rica and a handful of other countries have compulsory education in human rights starting in primary school. The rest of the world should follow these countries’ leads and make teaching human rights a priority because educating the youth can inculcate a respect and passion for human rights in tomorrow’s leaders.

I do not want to be a passive citizen of the world. I want to make a difference, no matter how small. That difference starts today, by informing people about the importance of human rights.

I have a responsibility to share information about human rights with you and I hope you pass this message along to others. People have the right to know what their fundamental human rights are. I urge you to visit to learn more.

We must learn to take human rights seriously in order to create a better world. It is everyone’s responsibility, especially the privileged and those in power, to protect the rights that every person deserves.

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Defenders of justice for Latin America

An update from Amber, a senior majoring in human rights and political science:

On our first day in Costa Rica, we visited an organization called CEJIL, or the Center for Justice and International Law. Paola Limon of CEJIL explained how her organization works within Latin America to investigate and bring violations against human rights to trial through the Inter-American system.

Although it can take years for the court to hear a case, CEJIL tirelessly works to bring justice through Inter-American court rulings. The organization works to fight impunity in Latin America and bring justice to victims of crimes against humanity. Some examples of those represented by CEJIL are victims (or relatives) of armed conflict, torture and forced dissappearance in Guatemala, relatives of those massacred in Brazil, disappeared child soldiers in Paraguay, victims of violence against women and girls in Nicaragua and victims of LGBTI violence in Honduras.

CEJIL was established in 1991 and has been working to defend those who have suffered crimes against humanity for the last 23 years. It is organizations like this that remind us that we can make a difference and must continue the fight for a better tomorrow.

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