Boston exhibition faces up to human rights

The Amazon, 1966, and the right to health: a photo from the exhibition Bruno Barbey/Magnum Photos

A Swiss exhibition has opened at Boston's international airport, bringing home to airline passengers and visitors the difficulty of defending basic human rights.

This content was published on May 1, 2007 - 17:40

"The Face of Human Rights," which has already been shown in over 30 cities around the world, is intended to make the viewer reflect on the necessity of these rights for all people.

A year after the constitution of the United Nations' Human Rights Council (HRC), the public will be able to view the exhibition at Logan airport's international terminal. Thirteen themes each illustrated by three pictures are meant to address specific aspects of human rights.

"We were trying to find a way of explaining how essential these rights are," Swiss law professor Walter Kälin told swissinfo in Boston.

For Kälin, considered by many to be the spiritual founder of the HRC, human rights are among the most significant advances of modern civilisation.

"But they are under pressure," he added. "On one side from terrorists, and on the other from governments who consider that to fight terrorism they can ignore these fundamental rights."

Kälin hopes the exhibition will help people deal with growing cynicism towards human rights. "If we can make people realise the relevance of human rights for themselves and others, we will have reached our goal," he said.

For Switzerland's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Blaise Godet, it is not just in the interest of states to ensure that human rights are respected, but also a duty.

Speaking at the official opening of the exhibition on Monday, he said that to reach that goal, nations must give more support to the HRC and forget the meanderings of its discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission.

Godet warned that all states must now have their rights' records scrutinised by independent experts, adding that human rights must now include those related to issues such as economic development and social rights.

Illustrating concepts

Kälin developed the exhibition together with editor Lars Müller, with the aim of illustrating the abstract concepts linked to human rights. An accompanying book has already been published.

The pictures are supposed to portray the many faces of the human condition, divided into themes such as the right to life, food, education, the protection of property or freedom of thought and religion.

Abuses aren't the only thing shown, but also the defence of fundamental rights around the world.

For Kälin, holding the exhibition in an airport terminal is a good place to relay his message.

It will certainly be seen by more than just a few people. Up to 6,000 people transit through the terminal every day.

swissinfo, based on a German article by Rita Emch in Boston

Key facts

The United Nations has seven bodies related to human rights:
The Human Rights Council
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
The Committee Against Torture
The Committee on the Rights of the Child
The Committee on Migrant Workers

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In brief

The Face of Human Rights is being presented as part of the "Think Swiss" programme organised in the United States by the Swiss House in Boston, Swissnex in San Francisco and the Swiss embassy's Office of Science, Technology and Higher Education.

The programme aims to present Switzerland as a centre of excellence of education, research and innovation.

The Swiss consulates and other institutions in the US are also organising events, including workshops and exhibitions.

These events are mainly aimed at universities, high-tech firms, administrations and NGOs.

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