Human Rights Day 2018: Book Recommendations

During the holiday season there is always much to celebrate. But, did you know that December 10th is Human Rights Day?

The United Nations began the honoring the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights– a groundbreaking document that outlines the civil, political, social, and economic rights that are fundamental to being human. This applies to you and me, the people around you, and people on the other side of the world. It applies to everyone.

70 years ago the UDHR was adopted.

When I read the declaration for the first time, there were some rights that I had not encountered in such a clear way before, including

  • the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Art 21
  • the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment Art 23
  • the right to rest and leisure Art. 24
  • the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family Art 25

These rights and many, if not all, others are not currently universally honored. However, that does not mean that we should not strive the total protection of of our human rights.

To celebrate, I am sharing my top 3 favorite human rights books. By “favorite” I mean books that pushed me to understand the complex and unjust human rights violations that are occurring in my country and abroad. They all tell compelling stories that illustrate broader patterns of human rights violations and how they are tied to deeply woven economic, political, historical, and social threads.

  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: Exposes pitfalls of the American criminal justice system by focusing on stories of people (especially innocent people) sentenced to death and how their circumstances were underpinned by their racial or economic background. More broadly, this book challenges readers to consider what it truly means to minimize someone to their very worst actions, to brush them aside and classify them as irredeemable. Once I picked this up, I did not set it down until I read it in its entirety. 
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo: Step into the slums of India and sheds light into the gross juxtaposition of economically booming cities and the struggling slums that shadow them. Focuses on economic inequality through the personal stories of hardworking people living in the Annawadi slum.
  • Five Years of My Life by Murat Kurnaz: A memoir of  an innocent man from Germany who was detained by the United States government at Guantanamo Bay without recognition of any of his human rights. His gripping tale of torture and never-ending abuse by the U.S. military is shocking to read, which makes it all that more important to acknowledge. This book strikes at the core of human rights because it describes a situation in which detainees in the War on Terror are completely stripped of their humanity, until they are nothing more than objects to fear and hate to their captors.

The first step towards achieving the full realization of and protections for our human rights is to educate ourselves.

These books are a great starting point. All of these books are written by experts or by people with first-hand experiences with these human rights violations.

You will walk away from these stories with more than knowledge. You will have a greater sense of yourself, your relationship to the human population across the world, and a keener sense of what justice looks like.

In your holiday celebrations this year please do not forget about the human rights movement.

Thank you for reading!

Wishing you a happy human rights day.

Love always,


*Cover image belongs to the United Nations.

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