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Human Rights Activists Defend Housing and Women's Rights

April 5, 2010

NEW YORK - Human rights activists say the Obama administration should treat low-income urban dwellers in New York with the same dignity and rights afforded to people in other countries when the U.S. signs treaties with them. Rob Robinson, a board member of Picture the Homeless, points out the U.S. signed onto the Universal Declaration of Human Rights way back in 1948. That declaration calls for adequate housing for all, he says, but right now 100,000 people go homeless in New York on any given day.

In other words, Robinson says, the U.S. is not living up to its international standards here at home.

"The right of a person to live in a house, versus the right of a landlord to profit, is what's at stake. I think that whole thing has changed in this country and you now see people fighting back, where once upon a time they would have accepted that idea."

Local politicians often line up on the side of developers, so Robinson says his group fights back with actions like occupying open spaces to slow the fast-spreading gentrification all around New York.

"In Harlem, in East New York and Brooklyn; you'll see it in China Town and the Lower East Side. These are traditional neighborhoods that are low-income areas of color, but all of a sudden big developers are coming in and building million-dollar condos and forcing the various constituencies out of that neighborhood."

The Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda, which is made up of some 50 U.S.-based organizations, is pushing for the Obama administration to honor its human rights commitments both in the United States and abroad.

Lisa Crooms chairs the Steering Committee for the campaign. She says many people around the world are surprised that human rights are still an issue for Americans here at home.

"People do look to us as being really advanced, but the reality is that the state of human rights as a domestic matter in the United States fails to measure up to the rhetoric that tends to be deployed internationally."

Crooms believes the positions taken by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also need to be ratified.


Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY