In 1946, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt advocated a global bill of human rights that would ensure not just the rights to liberty and religious freedom, but also the rights to healthcare and education.
Over half a century later, political science professor Kirk Boyd, a UCSB alumnus visiting the campus this quarter as a lecturer, and a group of students are continuing Roosevelt’s vision by developing a website, which lays out a basic framework for an International Bill of Rights. The project started three years ago but was recently sponsored by the Global Studies Dept.
Boyd said he hopes the project will spread beyond Santa Barbara to other UC campuses and eventually influence the United Nations.
“We’re not suggesting that this is an outcome,” Boyd said. “All we’re doing is saying this is a starting point.”
Boyd’s list includes 31 fundamental rights, including rights to freedom of speech and religion, marriage, privacy, shelter, environment and intellectual property. The full list is available at the project web page at .
Many countries, including South Africa, Portugal, northern European countries and former Soviet countries, have already accepted many of the rights, specifically the articles pertaining to the right to shelter and the right to a healthy environment.
“These are rights that have been accepted in many countries throughout the world and new constitutions are including these rights,” Boyd said, “but the United States has yet to include these rights, especially the right to education.”
Boyd said he and others have seen a shared set of ideas about universal human rights that led him to start the project.
“When Eleanor Roosevelt asked [Mahatma Gandhi] to look for the commonalities in religion for the International Bill of Rights that she was working on in 1946, Gandhi said that he expected the harder he looked, the more differences he would find,” Boyd said. “Instead he found more commonalities.”
The U.S. was recently voted off the United Nations Human Rights Commission that Roosevelt once chaired. Disagreements with what constitutes a basic right is one reason the U.S. has not accepted many of the rights, said political science major Maya Rupert, who works on the project.
“There’s just not enough agreement that those are rights that human beings have,” she said. “I think we have a hard time convincing people in the U.S. that social or economic rights are just as essential.”
During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union disagreed over the conflict between civil and political rights, and social and economic rights, delaying the project for Roosevelt. Boyd’s universal bill declares that all of these are equal.
Countries also disagree on specifics, senior political science major Jason Simison said.
“Everybody agrees that people should have these certain rights and certain abilities to have shelter, property and freedom of speech,” he said. “The thing is, no one ever agrees on a way to actually enforce these rights or a way to bring these together and have it in a way that will work with the whole world and integrate it into the whole world system.”
Boyd’s group does not support a world government to enforce these rights. “The individual countries would retain sovereignty,” Rupert said.
The International Bill of Rights Project consists of Boyd as the executive director, as well as founding student members Rupert, Simison, Rachael Stiles, Rachel Johnson and web designer Jason Trintad.