By Brenda Hammond
This year, Human Rights Day will mark the 75th anniversary of the day the United Nations adopted, Saturday, Dec. 20, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
After WWII, when the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany became fully apparent, it was the consensus within the world community that a universal declaration that specified the rights of all people was needed to prevent the kinds of actions that prompted that war from ever happening again.
Former-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was chair of the committee that drafted this document, which defines the inalienable rights of every human being around the world — regardless of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, social or any other status.
The UDHR establishes a common standard to which each nation can aspire. However, even in countries taking the lead in human rights, there is much to be done.
In our country, hate crimes continued to rise in the first half of 2022, after double-digit increases over the past two years, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 733 hate groups and 438 anti-government groups in 2021.
More and more hate incidents are being prompted by a many-sided anti-democratic political movement that rejects equality and pluralism, and presents a vision that is exclusionary and where people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, religious minorities, immigrants and non-Christians are marginalized. The kind of hate that led to the conditions prior to WWII is increasing all over the United States.
For this reason President Joe Biden, in September 2022, hosted the United We Stand Summit. It presented a shared vision for a more united America, demonstrating that the majority of Americans agree that there is no place for hate-fueled violence in our country. It called upon Americans to renew civic bonds and heal divides in our communities. Federal agencies were called upon to strengthen their support and resources to local schools, law enforcement and community institutions to prevent and respond to hate-fueled violence, to identify solutions and support local initiatives to foster unity and heal divides.
In Idaho, the U.S. attorney’s office launched a “United Against Hate,” initiative on Nov. 17 in North Idaho, and will hold other conferences throughout the state.
Members of the regional human rights task forces from the northern counties were invited. Six members from the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force attended.
The difference between hate incidents and hate crimes was clarified. Hate itself is not a crime. Only when it is a criminal offense — motivated by someone’s bias against a person based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity — does it become a hate crime. True threats are not covered by the First Amendment and are defined by a serious communication of an intent to commit an unlawful act of violence against a particular individual or group that belongs to a protected class.
Hate incidents can include harassment, intimidation, name-calling, and general or implied threats that may not rise to the level of an actual crime. It was stressed by representatives from the Department of Justice that both hate crimes and incidents should be reported to law enforcement as well as to the local FBI office and to local human rights task forces.
Law enforcement will determine if a crime has been committed and follow up accordingly. However, the FBI and the community task force will be aware that actions motivated by hate are taking place and will keep a record. The information they have will be valuable to both prevent and prosecute a crime if one exists in the future.
In honor of Human Rights Day, and the work that has been done in the past to uphold the basic rights of all people, we can pledge to support our neighbors — to reach out to anyone in need — and to report actions that are motivated by hate, whether or not they rise to the level of a hate crime.
In this way we can participate in taking a stand against hate. Information about reporting will be available on the BCHRTF website (bchrtf.org), and members of the task force will be available to provide support, information and resources to anyone who is aware of, or a victim of, any actions motivated by hate.
May our community be known as one that fosters unity, heals divides, and is motivated by kindness and love instead of hate.
Brenda Hammond is president of the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force.
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