This blog has never been wonderfully defined. It is “Health as a Human Right” because I knew when I started writing that human rights, especially the right to health is a passion of mine. I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted it to go and started by talking about current events or issues in healthcare and policy. It has over the years come to include more of my personal experiences fighting physical and mental health illnesses. And now I’m expanding the scope once again, to include all rights.
Tonight I got to be a part of something in a way I haven’t had the opportunity to in the past. I went down to Denver International Airport to protest our 45th President’s ban on Muslims (make no mistake, the executive order he signed was not about the safety of this country – it is blatantly to exclude Muslims from this country). And during the 3 hours I was there, I saw some of the best of humanity coming together to fight for what is right, to fight for our rights as Americans and as humans.
To get to today, lets go back a few days first.
On Wednesday, January 25, 2017 I read an article in the New York Times discussing executive orders the 45th President is drafting including a “Moratorium on New Multilateral Treaties,” which “calls for a review of all current and pending treaties with more than one other nation.” The article further states:
An explanatory statement that accompanies the draft order mentions two United Nations treaties for review: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This struck me at my core because these are 2 rights documents that specifically outline the right to health. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) states:
Article 11(I)(f) : States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
Article 24 (Health and health services): Children have the right to good quality health care – the best health care possible – to safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help them stay healthy. Rich countries should help poorer countries achieve this.
So when the new administration threatens those treaties, I am instantly scared for what that means for health as a human right.
But it’s worse, because the right to health is inextricably entwined with the other rights enumerated in these and so many other treaties and international accords.
Perhaps this is just a “review” but given this president’s actions thus far, I worry that he means to ensure the US is no longer a signatory.
I came to an interest in human rights law a long time ago, as a child reading The Diary of Anne Frank, and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and Number the Stars, and the Devil’s Arithmetic. I was decidedly pretty young to be reading these texts but I was fascinated with the Holocaust because I could not understand why it happened. I wanted to know why, and so I read everything I could. And later I would read, and still do, everything I can about genocides around the world – Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan, Cambodia, Syria.
In college, I focused more on the “why” but in a general sense – why did people make the decisions they made? What was behind their actions? And so I worked for 3 years in the Judgment, Emotion, Decision Making and Intuition lab. I majored in psychology and economics with an international emphasis and minored in political science – all with the same underlying theme.
Choosing to go to law school is another story and I felt incredibly lost that first year. But the summer between 1L and 2L I traveled to Amsterdam where I studied International Criminal and Human Rights Law and from there knew the path I took would always center around human rights – and particularly the right to health. After the program ended, I spent time in an orphanage in Bosnia. My 2L year, I worked with the law school foundation to get our funds divested from companies that operated in Sudan. My 3L year, I moved to Houston to the top health law and policy program in the nation.
After all these years I still have no clear answers from all this studying and reading to impart on you about why, but I can tell you how. I can tell you how it starts – it starts small, it starts with lies, and it starts with too many people remaining silent.
We say “never again” but those words are fairly meaningless considering that it occurs again and again because not enough people stand up to stop it.
I won’t stay silent when I see treaties at risk and I won’t stay silent when the rights in those treaties are threatened.
Last Saturday, January 21, 2017, The New York Times wrote an article about a child who has type 1 diabetes and whose family fled Syria. The tragic reality of that child is that his life was at stake and remains at stake through no fault of his own. The article describes that
Ms. Najjar knows that if Hisham had fallen sick while in Syria, he probably would have died. Power disruptions, common in Syria, essentially shut down hospitals, cutting off electricity to refrigerators storing insulin. And he and his family would have risked their lives just trying to travel to the hospital.
Now they are in Jordan and yet:
Nearly a year ago, Amnesty International warned that Syrian refugees in Jordan were unable to get access to health care and other vital services, citing “the combination of grossly inadequate support from the international community and barriers imposed by the government of Jordan.” The report also found that even if Syrian refugees could get access to health care, many could not afford it without forgoing basic needs.
The United Nations refugee agency provides Hisham’s family with $137 a month in cash assistance; the money goes directly toward the $193 rent and the electricity bill, which is $28. In addition, the family receives $70 in food coupons.
The International Rescue Committee, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, provides Hisham with free regular checkups and insulin, worth nearly $30 a month. The organization also paid for a glucose meter, but lacks the funding to pay for glucose test strips. The family must pay for them — $27 a month.
This 7 year old child has a right to health. Yet the president wants to “review” the very documents that lays out that right for the world to see. With the United States viewed as a world leader, the message this sends the world is – your rights do not matter.
A Muslim Ban
Yesterday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the president signed an executive order to ban Muslims from entering my country. As children and families flee chaos and violence at the hands of their own depraved leader, the man sitting in our Oval Office, decided that these individuals were somehow too dangerous to enter our country. With no evidence and rational that is easily torn down, his signature closed America’s doors to the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free that our Statue of Liberty ushers in*.
As I woke up this morning, I saw the news from JFK about those with visas or green cards being detained or not even allowed to board flights. I was furious and terribly upset. And then I saw a post that some were planning to gather at Denver International Airport (DIA) to protest this Muslim Ban. With my health being just good enough to go (barely, but good enough), with enough insulin, food, and supplies to last me as needed, and a backup battery for my phone and despite the warning from DIA that we could not protest because no one had a permit, I went.
I put on buttons from the Holocaust Museum that I never thought I’d have to wear to a protest in my own country about policies that were enacted in my own countries. Maybe a rally for South Sudan or another part of the world, but not my own. I put them on and I went.
I went because I believe that health is a human right, one of many human rights that are inseparable. I went went because I have the right and the freedom to speak and to assemble and I will uphold those rights by showing up and speaking. I went because I I cannot and will not stay silent given what I know. I went for the children like Hisham who struggle to survive both from illness and from regimes – a child from a country (Syria) and now living in another (Jordan) from which the president wants to ban immigrants.
I went to stand up for the rights of all – for every right, for every individual around the world.
Update: Before I go to bed tonight (this morning), I came across this thread. The 8th tweet speaks to what I’ve written above.
And this one too:
I attempted to capture as much as I could via Twitter Live/Periscope. I apologize for the poor photography but this was my first time going live with video, and there was a lot going on (we met inside but couldn’t use a microphone, police threatened to arrest if we didn’t disperse because we had no permit, there was a prayer circle, we moved outside, there were a lot of speakers and chanting and singing outside in the cold with bad lighting, we welcomed Omar [the reason we got to be there at all was because we were actually all waiting for one of the organizer’s friends who we let stand for any and all refugees or immigrants that should be and are welcome in America], all the while I was cold and my blood sugars were ridiculously high and joints aching).
*Quote on the Statue of Liberty is: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”