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Second Place: 'Responsibility to Act,' painting on canvas by Erin Newport of Pacific Collegiate School


Santa Cruz County high school students sound off about human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a binding treaty. Nations that violate its articles—and there are numerous ways to do that, from failing to educate the children of minority groups to torturing political dissidents—do not face sanctions or censure of any significant kind. But in the 59 years since it was signed by the members of the U.N. General Assembly, the declaration has served as a standard for the civilized treatment of citizens by governments. And it has given activists the crucial tool of "naming and shaming" rights-violating governments on the world's stage. For three years now, Amnesty International and the United Nations Association of Santa Cruz County have held a Human Rights Day Contest for high school students in honor of the Dec. 10, 1948, signing of the treaty (you can read the text at Following are excerpts from the winning poems and essays, along with winners from the visual arts category, answering the question: "How can we make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more effective?"

The United States could make the U.N.'s Declaration of Human Rights more effective by staying allies with them and supporting their rights, even if they aren't the same as the United States'. If the United States did this, then the U.N. would have our support and we wouldn't have to change our rights and laws, just help support theirs when they need it. One way that we as individuals could do to help make their declaration more effective could be to vote for a president in the United States that supports the U.N. and has the same general ideas. Another thing we could do is to teach and be taught the U.N.'s declaration and understand it so that we can tell other people which then might grow to a county, then a state, then the country until it spreads like wildfire, until the whole world has the same rights and everyone is treated exactly the same. Although this is unlikely to happen, it would be a hugely effective way to help the U.N.

— Heather Ritzman, Scotts Valley High, honorable mention (essay)

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the three most important human rights to me are articles One, Five and 26. Article One states that "all human beings are born free and equal." Article Five states that, "no one shall be subjected to torture, cruel treatment or punishment." ...

The final article I think is the most important must be Article 26. This article states that "every person has the right to an education." Sadly, this right is being violated in every third world country. In businesses like the rug industry or Nike, children don't get the opportunity to an education. They are forced to work in companies for a few cents to maybe a dollar a day. Luckily there are people who find and rescue these children and try to give them back their childhood. They adopt these young kids and help them get an education, plus, they also let them be children, and many for the first time.

I believe governments should enforce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it's important to have children in schools. Children are the future of their countries and it's a shame that people ignore this fact and prefer having children as slaves. If the children aren't given the right to a free education then the countries they live in will never become industrial and sophisticated countries.

—Gabriel Luna, Renaissance High, honorable mention (essay)

Some critics have completely written the U.N. off as a good idea impossible to successfully implement, but I believe that despite its faults, the U.N. has the capacity to be hugely influential on the betterment of the earth. There is no denying that the U.N. is already a benign, if weak, force, and the problem with the U.N. is essentially that it has no backbone. The U.N. is in dire need of de-politicization and proper resources and authority to back up and sustain U.N. programs.

The U.N. is fundamentally off-balance when it accepts funding from nations disproportionately. Therefore, a source of funding should be created that eliminates the possibility for nations to "buy" U.N. decisions. There are many international flights every day, and a tax as little as $10 for every international air ticket bought would create a major source of revenue, if not the entire funding for the U.N., but it also de-politicizes the organization by prohibiting certain states from over-contributing and holding too much influence ...

... the only way to increase the effectiveness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to augment the ethos and authority of the U.N. If the United Nations wants to be taken seriously as an international governing entity, they must behave as such, with the equal empowerment for its members and proper resources to back its decisions. After all, what good is a rule if it does not have to be followed?

—Caitlin Moe, Pacific Collegiate School, third place (essay)

Think about what you are wearing right now. Right now I am wearing pants made in Bangladesh, a shirt made in Mexico, socks and a sweatshirt made in China and shoes from someplace I've never heard of. Do I take the time to look at where my clothes come from and avoid buying clothes made in poor working conditions? No. Hardly any of us do, although many advertise it. Some people just don't want to think about what happens in a remote Chinese sweatshop with horrible conditions in order for their T-shirt to be made, but most simply lack the time to research which corporations have humane working conditions.Corporations exist for the sole purpose of making money, nothing else. If Americans stopped buying inhumanely produced goods, then corporations would employ superior working conditions to adjust to their demands, but only in order to continue making money. But as it is today, their profits only increase when they find new ways to inhumanely lower production costs. This might be paying their workers as little as 20 cents an hour or cutting out all ventilation systems in glue factories. In other words, corporations benefit from not obeying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ...

... I think we should give positive rewards to companies which employ improved working conditions. If we can make it more lucrative for corporations to have better working conditions, then they will change on their own and we will not have to hassle with troublesome lawsuits involved in punishment which is not effective. This is my proposal for how human rights could be improved in the world we live in today.

—Nathan Holiday, Pacific Collegiate School, second place (essay)

I think that schools should take time out of their strict educational plans to inform students about these issues. It wouldn't ruin an English class if they were assigned an essay about a cause. There is no reason why reading the newspaper is too hard of homework, and I'm sure that there are ways to relate math to everything in this world. Students could even be assigned an essay about clothing and the unfair treatment of workers. ... Instead of discussing the unfair treatment of Hester in The Scarlet Letter, for just one week, we should talk about how that relates to women today and the problems for women in other countries. ... And maybe students should have to learn to appreciate what they have more. Schools could have a lock in, or a night where everyone sleeps outside. Or, all the desks could be taken away for a day or two. Many of these ideas have been thought of to raise money, but how about raising awareness? ...

Not only do many people not know about the UDHR, but many don't care because they haven't grown up knowing about it. If they had been taught as teenagers, in the prime years to develop opinions and morals, there would be much more importance placed on the documents. ... There are so many articles violated, and so many unfortunate victims of ignorance, that it seems almost impossible to take on a project this big. But, all we need is to start out small, and have the idea spread throughout the United States. We all have the freedom to express ourselves, the UDHR tells us that, but the question is, do we have the motivation to give others that chance to express themselves?

— Justine Roades, Harbor High School, first place (essay)

See what I'm thinking is how to
Make Human Rights more effective
But instead of cool and collective
We got people running around reckless
Everybody was born free and has
The right to an education
What I'm telling you is serious,
True, and shouldn't be mistaken
No one should ever be held in
Servitude or go against their own will
Please listen, and in return you'll
Learn, that's the deal
Many people don't know what's
Happening in countries other than their own
Human rights is what really matters
We need to change the tone!

—"Rights," by Anonymous, third place (poetry)

The UDHR was made for many types of people
We should put it into play so everyone can be equal
We try to keep this declaration in everyone's mind
But peace on this earth is what we should try to find
We need to stop wars like the Hutus and the Tutsi
Because with this it's hard to be who you want to be
But I thought we had a right to life like in Article Number Three
In Rwanda kids walk down the street with a knife and gun
Why can't we just all be free like Article Number One
Everyone should live good and happy with their alive
And no one should be subject to torture like Article Number Five
No one should be tortured especially men and women
God intended for earth to be happy, that's how he wishes it could have been
The American dream was to be happy with a family
Also to live good and not in poverty
These rights come from a great human declaration
So why can't we live like this in every nation

—Pedro Sierra, Harbor High, second place (poetry)

You think in abstractions a lost soul in velvet cushions and robeYou have never worn clothes that are New;
Your eyes blinded and lined
Feet hurting and dirty your
Skin is cracked with lack of illegal sleep;
You fall
For men—there goes another city because you were one of the six translators who knew Arabic;
Your mother has no access to the drugs that will Save Her Life because you were
Born out of wedlock
And because Sudan is poor ...

—Maya Lowy, Pacific Collegiate School, first place (poetry)

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