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Six activists speak at human rights conference
The Webster University Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies welcomed six speakers from around the continent to lecture about global issues ranging from child mortality rates to combating HIV/AIDS. The speakers came to Webster as a part of the eighth annual Human Rights Conference Oct. 7 and 8.
The conference focused on the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It was held in the East Academic Building and featured six lectures concentrating on the successes and failures of the MDGs. Each lecture was lead by experts from around the continent, ranging from professors from Manitoba to Colorado.
Senior human rights major Hattie Svoboda-Stel said she believes Webster has a responsibility to hold conferences like this since it is an international university. She also said Webster offers a human rights program that many schools do not have. She said she attended the conference because she is interested in human rights work outside of the university’s program.
“I am someone who is really critical of the U.N. and other international forces that do mediation work,” Svoboda-Stel said. “So that makes me critical of the MDGs too, and I think it is important to further investigate things you are critical of.”
The eight MDGs were created as a blueprint for global governments and developmental institutions with a target date of 2015. They aim to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people. The eight global MDGs include: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and global partnering for development.
International business and management major Jacynta Bostick said the conference was an educational experience because she learned about human rights issues around the world she did not know were happening.
“I’m walking away being more knowledgeable and also more curious,” Bostick said. “I definitely want to know more. [The conference] peaked my interest on human rights in different countries.”
Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies Lindsey Kingston said this is her sixth year of planning the annual conference, along with a lot of assistance. She said the group usually starts planning in February for an October conference. They begin researching a theme, looking for speakers and booking space. The planning continues through the summer, and in the fall a student staff is brought in to help.
“It’s a very long process,” Kingston said. “Event planning is challenging, but also very rewarding. It’s worth it.”
Svoboda-Stel said this is her third consecutive year going to the conference, and that she would love to continue attending it after she graduates. She said it is important for anyone living in the U.S. to be as well-versed in these topics as they can.
“We have a large global responsibility to responding to the fact that our government causes a lot of problems elsewhere,” Svoboda-Stel said. “I think it is really important for people to become at least aware of these things, if not involved.”
Each lecture took a specific approach discussing these eight MDGs. For example, the lecture about promoting gender equality and empowering women focused on the current women’s rights issues in Kashmir.
The country is located between India and Pakistan and has been the center of a territorial fight for many years. Conference speaker Ather Zia said the Indian military has a strong presence in Kashmir, and they use rape as a weapon of war against Kashmir’s women, in addition to other issues.
Human rights major Jack Nathe said the lecture about Kashmir was informative to him because he did not even know the country existed, and he especially did not know about the human rights issues that are going on there today. He said he looks forward to researching more about the topic.
“I felt bad at first because [Kashmir] is going through so much and I didn’t even know it existed, but it’s important to be informed about what is going on in places that you wouldn’t necessarily know about,” Nathe said. “[People of Kashmir]are getting killed out there, and most people don’t even know about it. We could do something about it if more people knew.”
Kingston said she hopes the conference gets people interested in human rights so they can start having important conversations with their friends, family and classmates.
“My goal is not to tell people what to think, it’s to challenge people to question what’s going on and to be more aware of what’s happening in the world,” Kingston said.
Each conference lecture had nearly a full room of attendants; about 70 people. Attendants were able to come and go as they pleased, picking which lectures they were interested in hearing.
Bostick said she came to the conference because she wanted a perspective from a professional, but also because she is interested in the inequalities going on in the world.
“I think as Americans, we get so focused on our lives and what’s going on in our own world that we don’t see what’s going on in the outside world, and we don’t realize how privileged we are,” Bostick said. “(The conference) just opened my mind more to global issues.”
Next year’s theme is equality before the law, Kingston said.
“We’ll be looking at fair trials, the militarization of the police, all sorts of different things,” Kingston said.