Human rights abuses are not just some foreign phenomenon occurring in a far-off country, according to Monique Harden, the co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. But, rather, she believes that crises of human rights are taking place on domestic soil, right here in the United States.
Harden, who is also an attorney for the public interest law firm in New Orleans, spoke at the “Human Rights in Crisis” conference this weekend. The event, hosted by Human Rights Through Education, featured activists from around the globe.
HRTE is a University student group working to promote the discussion and education of human rights issues both domestically and abroad.
Harden discussed how a lack of fundamental human rights in the United States is affecting minority communities.
She began her speech by saying that, “there is a gap in the way in which environmental advocacy and litigation is being conducted in this country.”
Harden said that many communities within the United States are being destroyed and the government is taking no action.
“There has been a lot of work by our country to focus on human rights abroad, in the Congo and Darfur,” she said. “But what about Flint, Mich.?”
She cited Morrisonville, La., a small town that was established in the late 1700s. The Dow Chemical Company built a major plant in the town. The company bought out the houses of most of the families living there and pushed out the rest because of hazardous toxins in the air produced by the plant.
There are more than 30 communities in the United States facing the same fate, Harden said, and there is no government requirement for safe distances of hazardous facilities and residential communities. She said this stems from the fact that there are not enough federal laws at the national level protecting human rights.
“African Americans, or Latinos, or Asian Americans or Native Americans are getting this toxic destructive stuff,” Harden said. “We should have a right to stop this.”
Harden outlined basic human rights as protection of life, health, racial discrimination and privacy in the home. Since the government is not providing protection to people in these areas, their rights to life are being violated, she said.
Harden commented that in times of national crises, the government can legally make a situation worse under the current instituted laws.
After the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the government was more concerned with opening Wall Street than checking the health situation at the site, she said. As a result, many workers developed fatal diseases from the contaminated air.
Harden, a resident of New Orleans in Aug. 2005, discussed Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath from a first-hand perspective.
She said that after the disaster, 750,000 people were displaced and had no rights. She added that instead of the government helping to get people back into their homes, developers were taking over the properties.
The Bush Administration, she said, viewed the recovery in the Gulf region as a volunteer effort rather than a federal obligation.
Harden said there are laws established to help these people, but the government has not enacted them.
“There is a basic floor of governance, and we have a long way to climb,” she said.