U of M Spring Semester 2015: Human Rights Workshop with Fasoha

Faso Flyer (2015 MAR 31)

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Human Rights Advocates: David Biggs

Lenin Statue-47David Biggs has a B.A. in English Composition and Language from the University of North Texas and worked in different professions being including as a technical writer at various companies. In his early 30s, he decided to get a J.D. at the University of Minnesota Law School. Working as a research assistant, David maintained the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library which houses one of the largest collections of more than sixty thousand core human rights documents. After a couple of years as a research assistant at the University of Minnesota Law School, David started working as a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. Since 2013, he has served at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine.

David chose that particular job because he felt working in the State Department was one of the best places he could be to see why the USA gets some things wrong in international diplomacy and because he wanted to try to have a hand in making correct decisions, if possible. David desired an up close view of how policy is made and enacted, which can greatly affect the drafting and enforcement of international laws.

 Since working abroad, David has often been confronted with the power of people who stand up for human rights. Five months after he arrived in the Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life were camping on Independence Square protesting first their president’s coerced decision to steer away from closer relations to the EU and then protesting the corruption and abuses that have been commonplace in Ukraine for more than 20 years. Those protests and now the war with Russia really illustrate the need for strong rule of law and transparent government actions.

 For David the term “human rights” means the rights that we are all born with, or that we all should be born with. Humans in an ideal world would act within bounds that don’t interfere in another’s fundamental rights. These are the basic constructs that should define civilization and humanity.

In Ukraine, David observes human rights violations every day. In his experience rule of law including the reliable and effective enforcement of law has to be in place to a large extent before human rights will improve. He has watched as the wealthy in Ukraine and in Russia do as they please, up to and including extra-judicial killings, safe from the law. In his future positions within the Foreign Service, he hopes to find ways to convince oligarchs and other power players in the countries where he will serve that setting up a reliable court system with consistent enforcement mechanisms is in their own best interest as well as that of the general population.

Respect for human rights and the desire to promote those rights will be with David wherever he serves and whatever he does. His next assignment will be supporting U.S. efforts at the UN in Vienna, Austria. What about the assignment after that? Who knows? He may find himself with a direct human rights portfolio, or he may have a job helping underprivileged citizens of a poor country to start businesses and help their economy. But for sure he will always look at the problems he faces with an eye toward how he can help the most people and how he can help to promote a stable and effective legal system.

David’s general advice for people who want to work in the field of human rights:

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“If you want to pursue a human rights related career, you should figure out what subjects make your heart sing. Find out what goals make you want to get out of bed in the morning. Then view those goals through the lens of the application of human rights. How can you do what you love in such a way that it transforms others, increases their dignity, gives them hope, and inspires them to also want to help? If you can get that snowball rolling, even on a small scale, you’ve done a lot.”