Thoughts on Human Rights and Social JusticeBy Herman Bell

June 6, 2011

As we use the "human rights and justice approach", since it's generally agreed we should proceed this way in the next period, how do we define "human rights" and "justice"? Let us take time and humanize these terms. Let us give them life, a beating heart, a discerning mind, and courageous spirit. Let us make them living, and more than dead words.

To be human is to have fundamental, inalienable rights, and when we determine what they are, we define them, we claim them. If we stake no claim, then we can make no demand. It would be as though we think ourselves undeserving or unentitled. Should we fail to make the terms "human rights" and "justice" living expressions, they remain mere words, dead words at that. To illuminate the essence and spirit of that which emboldened Harriet Tubman to return to the South time and time again is to get at what is meant by these terms.

We humans are not infallible; to be human is to err. We are as close to error, mistake and blunder as wetness is to water. Rightly or wrongly, some people are sent to prison, banks are permitted to rob, homes are lost, people go hungry, schools are closed.

Attica happened because prisoners demanded humane treatment. Unwavering opposition ended the Vietnam War. But can the same be said of Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo, now Libya...and what of Haiti! Someone said: "I saw the enemy and he is us."

People "pick and choose" their fights, holding back for the so-called right moment (pretend something too long and it becomes truth). Somebody has to take a stand, to say enough is enough, to quit standing on the shoulders of others, to stand on one's own. That, to me, is what emboldened Harriet Tubman.


Stay connected with Herman Bell