December 17, 2020
On the evening of Thursday, December 10th, 2020, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) hosted its first virtual Human Rights Awards program, an event put forth annually to commemorate the anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In honor of the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of this milestone document, UNA-NCA recognized individuals and organizations working to improve human rights in the DC community and around the world.

This year’s honorees were: Dean Claudio Grossman, recipient of the Louis B. Sohn Human Rights Award; Professor Susan Deller Ross, receiving the Perdita Huston Human Rights Award; Erin Barclay & Scott Busby, receiving the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Diplomacy Award; and the People for Fairness Coalition, receiving the Community Human Rights Award. In addition to the award recipients, the event included notable presenters such as the President of the International Law Student Association at the Washington College of Law at American University, Jaclyn Lahr; former Supervising Attorney & Teaching Fellow at the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law, Michelle Liu; Ambassador Keith Harper (Ret), former U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council; and Executive Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Patricia Mullahy Fugere. The evening also included wonderful performances from Cage Free Voices. Cage Free Voices is an international multi-service educational entertainment company that educates youth and young adults who struggle with self-image by way of constructing powerful learning experiences.

UNA-NCA Board Chair, Stephen F. Moseley, kicked off the program with welcome remarks. Moseley talked about the future Biden-Harris Administration needing “to start the process of re-engaging the United States in the Human Rights Council and to help people seeking asylum and protect them from attacks on their human rights.” He then introduced UNA-NCA President Paula Boland who started off by saying: “the UDHR is a milestone document that entails the inalienable rights that all human beings are entitled to, today we acknowledge the importance of this document and human rights.” She then continued on to say “we need to create equal opportunities for all, highlight the failures exploited by the Covid-19 pandemic and apply human rights to end systematic discrimination, corruption, and inequalities.”

Following Boland’s remarks, we heard from the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres who remarked upon the various human rights violations that the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted upon different endangered communities including “frontline workers, women and girls, and minorities.” Next, Michele Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared, “Human Rights Day is a call to action and we must end discrimination of any kind, reduce widespread inequalities, encourage young people to participate and finally to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and stand up for human rights.”

After messages from UN Leadership, UNA-NCA presented the first award of the evening to Dean Claudio Grossman, Professor and Dean Emeritus at the American University Washington College of Law. Grossman said upon receiving the award that “Covid-19 has been a tragic reminder of the need for equality because Covid effects us all, we need then together to unite forces to avoid and prevent other challenges that we are facing in the future and now, such as climate change, discrimination, and authoritarianism.”

The Perdita Huston award was presented to Professor Susan Deller Ross, who is the Director of the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law. She spoke about her efforts to help “develop legislation and human rights reports to persuade parliament to get rid of old laws and enact new ones that do not discriminate against women.” She was presented the award by her former student, now friend and colleague, Michelle Liu. This award was followed by a moving and passionate spoken word piece by Cage Free Voices titled “The Righteous Ones” that paid tribute to and spoke about the evening’s honorees along with the namesakes of the awards.

The presentation of the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Diplomacy Award was awarded to Erin Barclay and Scott Busby of the U.S. Department of State. The presentation of this award was preceded by a tribute to Tex Harris, who passed earlier this year. Past President Ed Elmendorf described him as an “advocate for human rights in Argentina and a wonderful family man.” After receiving the award, Barclay, who serves as the Executive Director of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the U.S. Department of State shared that “Pursuing human rights isn’t just the right thing to do: it protects America and sets a precedent. When the U.S. talks about human rights, other countries pay attention and strive towards better human rights.” Scott Busby, who serves as the Acting Principal Deputy Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State followed Barclay echoing her thoughts and adding “Harris’s foreign policy work still influences all those who are American diplomats, it not only puts people in the center of foreign policy but also has a dedication of speaking truth to power and an unwavering devotion of justice and fairness whether it is our own diplomats or people overseas.”

The final award of the night was presented to the Community Award to People for Fairness Coalition, accepted by its Director, Robert Warren. He spoke about the plight of the homeless population of Washington, DC and their work to help end homelessness. Warren spoke about the coalition and their “work in support of the most vulnerable residents of DC. It is hard work and we try and do it with dignity and respect for all.” The night wrapped up with remarks from UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair Rachel Bergseiker who was followed by Cage Free Voices’ second performance, a spoken word piece entitled “Greatness is Served.”

Special thanks were conveyed to UNA-NCA’s Human Rights Committee, leadership, staff and to our generous sponsors and donors who made this a great celebration of Human Rights Day.

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