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Human rights will be topic of speakers


The Rev. William F. Schulz speaks here December 10.


On Dec. 10, the 58th anniversary of the United Nations adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Rev. William F. Schulz will speak in Toledo about what he believes the United States must do to meet the standards set by that historic document.

The first step is simply for the United States to obey the law its own laws and international laws, said Mr. Schulz, who recently retired as executive director of Amnesty International USA and who served as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1979 to 1985.

Secondly, the United States needs to adopt an attitude toward the rest of the world that does not connote that it s our way or the highway, he said. It needs to connote that we are a part of the international community in all its pursuits.

Mr. Schulz will speak at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at First Unitarian Church of Toledo as part of the church s Celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Also speaking at the conference will be Michael Bryant, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Toledo, at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 on the topic of The Theological Significance of Human Rights from Nuremberg to Darfur.

Mr. Schulz said the United States policies and practices have besmirched its formerly respectable international rep-utation as a human rights leader. He cited torture scandals at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, the denial of habeas corpus rights, and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the United States also must find a way to reconcile the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that is just for both sides.

I think it s critical that the United States regain its reputation for respect for the rule of law and as a player in the international community that is willing to stick to the rules itself and abide by international standards for prisoners, for example, and for due process when it comes to arresting and trying people for crimes, he said.

As a Unitarian Universalist minister, Mr. Schulz said the denomination teaches a fundamental conviction that human beings are responsible for the future of the world and the shape of history.

Although human fallibility and evil can interfere, he believes that 19th century Unitarian Universalist minister Theodore Parker was correct when he said, The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.

The role of human beings, through organizations such as the Unitarian Universalist Church and secular organizations like Amnesty International, is to get on, grab hold to one end of that arc, and keep pulling it toward justice, Mr. Schulz said.

The world has made enormous progress in the struggle for human rights over the last several hundred years, but in the short term there have been many setbacks, he said.

He said he went to Darfur, the Sudanese region torn by violence, in the fall of 2004 and witnessed firsthand the horrors of the refugee camps.

I don t think that anyone who has been exposed to a refugee camp to the smells and sights and sounds and the dearth of hope and the degradation of the human spirit that is always manifested in those camps can ever forget that experience or wipe it out of their hearts, Mr. Schulz said. The reality is that literally hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes and are trying to exist on absolutely minimal resources.

Yet Darfur is barely on the radar screen for most people, despite the U.S. Congress labeling it as genocide, he said.

Congress has failed to make it a priority. It is perceived as not directly implicated in America s national interests at the moment, but that is short-sighted, Mr. Schulz said. Sudan was where Osama bin Laden found refuge for many years, and the violence is spilling into neighboring Chad and potentially to Niger and the Central African Republic.

The last thing the United States needs when it is bogged down in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is to have another area of the world blow up into conflict and provide another breeding ground for terrorism, Mr. Schulz said.

He urged America s religious communities to take more active roles in helping relieve the plight of the world s refugees.

Any time we have people who have been stripped of the most elementary features of their humanness ... torn from their normal routines and forced into degradation, if religious faiths of all kinds do not do whatever they can to repair that, then I don t know what situation would in the world.

Mr. Schulz, 57, is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Oberlin College who earned a master s degree from the University of Chicago and a doctor of ministry degree from the University of Chicago s Meadville-Lombard Theological School.

He recently moved to Gloucester, Mass., and is serving as a fellow at the Kennedy School and the Center for American Progress while he ponders about a dozen different options for his career path. But he said he felt it was time for him to step down from leadership of Amnesty USA, a post he held from 1994 until this year.

I felt very good and almost everyone at Amnesty felt very good with what we accomplished in 12 years. We doubled the budget, doubled the staff, increased membership between 60,000 and 80,000, so in terms of the measurable, quantifiable things, it had been fulfilling and successful, he said.

First Unitarian Church of Toledo s Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will feature lectures by Michael Bryant of the University of Toledo at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 and William F. Schulz at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 10. Tickets are $50 for the series or $30 for each. Free child care provided. The church is at 2210 Collingwood Blvd. Information: 419-241-7189.

David Yonke

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