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Human rights face obstacles, Zinn says

Citizens, not politicians, will determine whether universal human rights are realized in our time, acclaimed historian and Boston University professor emeritus Howard Zinn told a standing-room-only crowd of about 40 people at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Wednesday.

Zinn spoke about Article 25 of the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of HKS Carr Center for Human Rights Policy’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60th anniversary series. The article, which says every person has the right to basic necessities such as clothing, food, housing and medical care, is ‘noble, but unenforced,’ Zinn said.

Lack of knowledge, fear of ‘big government’ intervention and military conflict are obstacles to the realization of universal human rights because where funds are allocated to these things, they are taken away from human necessities, he said.

As long as the US government allocates such a large budget for the military, basic rights such as universal health care can never be adequately funded, Zinn said. He said he was disappointed by President Barack Obama’s call for more troops in Afghanistan and his vow to maintain 50,000 troops in Iraq.

‘Obama is a man with all sorts of good things that can be said about him, but he is a politician,’ Zinn said.

He said trillions of dollars are spent on arms production, but many Americans are left without health care.

‘It is interesting what we can and cannot afford,’ Zinn said, calling for reprioritization.

Americans on the whole do not have the most accurate grasp of this reality because the media and certain leaders tend to distort the truth, but ‘close observation and participation’ are critical ways to acquire it, he said. Students interested in political science and human rights should get outside of the classroom, Zinn told The Daily Free Press after the talk.

‘Get out into the world that Article 25 is trying to change,’ he said.

Steven Brzozowksi, assistant to the director at the Carr Center, said Zinn helped start a more prominent dialogue about issues involving human rights.

‘When you shine a light on these rights, you see the disparity,’ Brzozowski said.

Harvard Kennedy School spokeswoman Vidya Sivan said Zinn’s speech provided a ‘reality check’ about what can be done to address human rights issues.

‘People should be helping themselves to make change,’ Sivan said.

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