ANCHORAGE - December 10 may have been just another Monday for most Alaskans, but 64 years ago December 10 was a day that changed the lives of people across the globe.
The United Nations (U.N.) adopted the Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, and December 10 has been Human Rights Day worldwide since 1950.
“Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law,” said Robert Gregory, as he read the first part of Article 6 of the declaration.
The declaration was adopted in the wake of World War II, the deadliest war the world has ever seen. Genocide killed millions and the declaration was an attempt to stop it from happening again.
But, Karen Furguson from Catholic Social Services said genocide is still very real around the world, in places like Bhutan.
“It started like World War II,” said Ferguson, who heads the state’s refugee program. “First they were just difficult to employ, then they were not allowed to be employed, then they were stripped of citizenship, but allowed to stay. Then their children were not allowed to go in schools. Eventually all of their property was taken away from them and then eventually forces would come and burn down villages.”
She paused, and then continued, “They watched their homes burn to the ground.”
Ferguson said it’s just one example of a country that ignored the Declaration of Human rights.
”Most people think of Bhutan as this gorgeous place to go for tourism, and I am sure it is, but part of the way the country got so uniform was by a very planned campaign against the people who didn’t fit it.”
The campaign was supposed to “ethnically cleanse” the country. It forced thousands to flee to Nepal.
National genocides in countries like Bhutan, Germany, Cambodia and Jordan have brought millions to the United States and continue to bring about 120 people to Alaska every year.
“No one flees their country saying, ‘this is a great way to get to Alaska,’” said Ferguson. “They flee their country because they want safety, and then they want to return home.”
But few return home. Some may leave because they are being persecuted for their race, religion, political views, but others leave because they live in the middle of a war zone.
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” said Susan Verty, reading Article 3 of the declaration.
And only one in 500 will get absorbed by one of the countries willing to take them in.
"All human beings are born free in dignity and rights,” said Dave Harrington, reading the first article of the declaration. “They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in spirit of brotherhood.”
Most refugees spend years in camps before going home or being relocated. Ferguson said that leaves thousands across the world without hope for a future.