I traveled to San Francisco last weekend with my friend and colleague, Ahmed, to represent our dean at the annual conference of the International Association of Law Schools and was humbled to gather with people from all over the world who are responsible for training the next generation of lawyers. It is no exaggeration to say that the world depends on this good work.
Neither is it a statement of pride since I was obviously out of my element in a conference full of legal scholars. This was particularly obvious when we were asked to divide into small groups based on our areas of expertise, and, um, I don’t have one. But, I had to choose something so, given the choices, I chose “human rights” because, well, I’m for them.
But what an honor. In two separate sessions, I sat in a small classroom with a handful of individuals who consider it their life calling to teach human rights to law students. There were professors from South Africa and India, Australia and Italy, Russia and Canada, Indonesia and the United States. Can you imagine?
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claims that “[h]uman rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status” and purports to represent “the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity.”
I like that phrase—universal ideals of human dignity.
What I found surprising in the privileged opportunity afforded me at this unique conference was what that special group of people found surprising in their visit to San Francisco. And that was the homelessness on full display in the short walk from the hotel to the conference location.
I have often been told that the poverty in these United States does not compare to poverty in the developing world, and I’ve traveled enough now to understand the proposition. But please slap me if I ever fail to remember that the universal ideals of human dignity apply to the people on the American margins, too.