From a packed auditorium in the U.S. Holocaust Museum on Thursday, a deep voice came over the loud speaker, firmly reminding guests to silence cell phones, as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad prepared to take the stage.
In his first visit to the United States in his capacity as the UN’s top human rights official, Zeid delivered a speech asking, “Can Atrocities be Prevented?”, one week after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
As I reached to silence my phone, I caught a picture on the screen of my three-month-old son, sleeping peacefully in his cradle. As communications director for the Better World Campaign, I have long been a supporter of the UN and the role it plays in advancing our U.S. interests, but recently adding “mother” to my proverbial resume made me even more focused on what the newly-appointed High Commissioner was about to say.
In answering his speech’s core question, he proposed that yes, atrocity is preventable — if we can educate, and educate with a core focus on universal human rights.
“Children everywhere need to learn what bigotry and chauvinism are, and the terrible wrongs they can produce… Every child should be able to grasp that the wonderful diversity of individuals and cultures is a source of tremendous enrichment… Children are fully able to grasp the implications of human rights. And they are able, too, to understand the power that human rights principles bestow on them. Every child can help to shape her or his universe,” said Zeid.
As a new mom, as a U.S. citizen, and a descendant of family who suffered violent anti-Semitism in Europe, these words resonate. And their delivery could not be more poignant.
The High Commissioner’s remarks were delivered “within yards” of the U.S. Capitol, “the seat of world’s biggest economic and military power.” And they were entirely in keeping with priorities we as Americans — and, I believe, parents — embrace. As Zeid noted, he represents “an office whose roots go back to Eleanor Roosevelt, a major force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – itself the elegant and powerful response to the horrors expressed in this building [the U.S. Holocaust Museum].
While it has been 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz extermination camp, Zeid identified that some of the processes and justifications used by the Nazis to carry out humanity’s largest organized destruction are being implemented again today. Whether that is by terrorists like Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Boko Haram, Zeid asserted, we cannot look away — we must educate our children and the world.
I am profoundly grateful that my son will grow up in a country that refuses to tolerate such horror, atrocity, and brutality. But I am mindful that evils exist in our world. And I’m thankful the UN stands with us in defending human rights.