Human Rights Day

The United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 10 as Human Rights Day, marking the day in 1948 that the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration proclaimed the inalienable rights that everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.

Human Rights Day reminds everyone that the values set out in the declaration are universal, timeless and relevant, no matter who you are or where you live. It also reminds us that the principles of the declaration — the equal dignity and worth of every person — cannot be taken for granted by any community.

History of Human Rights

Basic concepts of human rights are not new. Human beings have had ideas of how to treat each other ever since they began to interact in civil society. All of the great world cultures and religions throughout history have held concepts of fundamental human decency. In the modern world, movements against slavery and racial discrimination, for gender equality and other forms of equality, and for free intellectual, political and cultural expression, have been major human aspirations. World War II and the Holocaust thrust the need for a written declaration of fundamental rights into sharp focus, resulting in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It was a major turning point in human history.

Civil Rights vs. Human Rights

The two terms are often used interchangeably. However, human rights are generally used to refer to rights that are fundamental and universal to all. Civil rights, on the other hand, are rights that have been recognized by a particular country. The Rockville Human Rights Commission deals with matters that affect both human rights and civil rights.

Do You Have to be a Citizen to Have Human Rights?

No. Article 2 of the UDHR states that, “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Human Rights Around the World

Human rights are a globally recognized concept, and there are many agencies that protect and defend them, at the international, national and subnational levels. For example, in addition to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, every state and many localities maintain human/civil rights agencies. There is a Maryland Commission on Human Rights; there is also a Montgomery County Office of Human Rights, and a 15-member Montgomery County Commission on Human Rights.

Human Rights in Rockville

The City of Rockville's Human Rights Commission is an 11-member group of volunteers, appointed by the Mayor and Council. The membership of the commission is intended to be representative of the city’s community. It typically meets at City Hall on the fourth Wednesday of each month.

The commission seeks to minimize the effects of conflict and promote an appreciation of diversity within the city. To meet these goals, the commission provides a variety of services and educational and cultural programs that promote global thinking, encourage civic awareness and/or reflect the rich diversity found in the city. The commission can also conduct surveys or studies and make recommendations to city council.

The commission organizes the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration each January and the city’s pride event each June, and sponsors several programs to develop and recognize leadership among Rockville students and community members.

Get Involved

If you are interested in joining the commission, check the commission’s website for vacancies. Another way to get involved is to volunteer to help plan, promote and carry out commission programs. Contact Janet Kelly, the commission's liaison, at 240-314-8316 or jkelly@rockvillemd.gov for upcoming opportunities.

And you can always be involved by staying informed, being aware, and taking action on human rights issues in our community and around the country.

Opportunities for Young People

Each year, the commission holds a diversity and inclusion training and assists with the development of inclusion projects within schools throughout the year. Students can volunteer at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration on Monday, Jan. 20 and participate in the commission’s annual multimedia contest. Look for details about the multimedia contest in January's issue of "Rockville Reports."