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'Mr. Human Rights' Jack Healey

Audio: Jack Healey in his own words

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Jack Healey, a leader in the human rights movement for more than 25 years, said that while human rights is facing an uphill battle in places like Burma, the movement is winning.

Healey, the lead-off speaker in a series of events commemorating 150 years of history between Bucknell University and Burma, told a Trout Auditorium audience Thursday night that the human rights movement can trace its origins to America's Founding Fathers. When the U.S. Constitution was written, he said, they had a far broader vision.

"I believe that the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution were written not only for us Americans," he said. "The Founding Fathers actually believed it should apply to the world. It should apply to anybody living anywhere."

Universal declaration
He credited Eleanor Roosevelt with championing the concept of a universal declaration of human rights in 1948. "She did it as a volunteer at the United Nations," he said. "It gives everybody the right, not only individual rights, but also the left -- the right to get an education, the right to get a job, the right to unionize, the right to have a home. She united those ideas into one document."

Healey, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and worked in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer before taking the helm at Amnesty International USA where he led global music tours to raise human rights awareness, said, "The world's decency, the world's hope for the future, depend not upon government, but upon individuals. Simple folk. Eleanor Roosevelt was asked where do human rights start and she used to say, 'Little places with little people.' Little people suffer."

He talked about human rights violations around the globe -- from South Africa and Europe to Central America and Asia -- and how he began approaching people like Bruce Springsteen, Bono from U2, and Muhammad Ali to enlist their support with what he called a "simple request for help."

Stand up
"We don't have the steel, the might, the money, the power," Healey said of the human rights movement. "But we've got the heart and the truth. We've got the decency to stand up and be counted."

When a country like the United States debates using torture, said the man who has been dubbed by the media as "Mr. Human Rights," it has a profound impact on the rest of the world.

"You should understand what it means to the rest of the world … You should understand the very discussion of torture on television will send at least a million people, maybe more, into post-traumatic stress -- immediately. There are millions of living people on this earth who have been tortured. Four-hundred thousand raped women in Congo, 40,000 raped women in Bosnia, thousands in Burma today," Healey said. "You should know what it means to the world, what it means if the Americans are doing it."

Make the world better
He said citizens have an obligation to make a better world.

"How do we do that? I would argue we use the universal declaration of human rights not as a law but as a vision, as a strategy by which we can lift this world and make it a little better and, thereby, make ourselves better," he said. "Think about it. A letter. If a letter can free someone from a torture chamber, shouldn't you write the damn letter?"

He described the focus of his current human rights work -- freeing Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was elected leader of Burma by 82 percent of that country's voters but who has been under house arrest by the military government. He likened her to Nelson Mandela, the South African who fought apartheid.

"Today, in Burma, there's a woman sitting in a house under house arrest for many years," he said. "It's amazing someone wins an election like that and as a reward is given 15 years in jail. She is one woman against all the guns that Burma has … All that gun power.  I would suggest to you that we are going to win. It might take a while. But we beat South Africans on apartheid. We beat Pinochet. The human rights movement is winning. But we need a new generation to come into this fight."

Bucknell admiration
He expressed special admiration for Bucknell.

"I am happy about the relationship you have with Burma," said Healey. "Bucknell should be quite proud of that. You've attached yourself to Aung San Suu Kyi who I think is the living symbol of the universal declaration of human rights. You have a real live connection to that and I think that is terribly important, not only to this campus but to this country as well."

Contact: Office of Communications

Posted March 21, 2008