United Nations group honors USC human rights leader

Days after President Donald Trump first addressed the United Nations since taking office, UN supporters gathered to celebrate the organization—and to honor leaders including USC Professor of Preventive Medicine and Law Sofia Gruskin—at the 10th Annual West Coast Global Forum in Los Angeles Sept. 25.

In light of Trump’s history of criticizing the UN, and the United States’ role within it, discussions centered around why the UN needs to be protected now, more than ever.

Each year the forum, organized by the UN Association, Southern California Division, congratulates individuals, businesses and non-profits making a difference in Southern Californians’ lives.

Gruskin, director of the USC Program on Global Health & Human Rights, shared the forum’s 2017 Global Citizen Award with Ramla Sahid, executive director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, and Ellen Snortland, author and film director of Beauty Bites Beast.

A scholar and advocate, Gruskin researches and educates at the intersection of law, health and human rights—from grassroots to global policy levels. “Professor Gruskin is recognized as a leader at the cutting edge of conceptual and programming advances,” said Ginny Hatfield, who co-chairs the UNA-USA Southern California Division with Barry Simon.

Gruskin accepted the award on a positive note, applauding the “new and exciting” activism cropping up in the U.S. and abroad—but explained the growing set of challenges the UN faces today.

“The fact is,” she said, “we still have to address all of the issues that were issues before recent events,” including infectious and non-communicable diseases; migration; environmental degradation; discrimination, abuse, and violence against women, children and adolescents; and “the humanitarian crises forcing people out of their homes and livelihoods at record levels.”

In addition to managing these problems, the UN must now actively help people to claim their human rights in new ways and for new reasons, as well as protect those advocating for rights, she said.

Gruskin, Sahid and Snortland accepted certificates of appreciation from the City of Los Angeles, signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, and certificates of congressional recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives, signed by Rep. Ted Lieu, of California’s 33rd Congressional District.

California legislators Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff discussed the UN’s role and thanked the award recipients in video addresses to the forum.

Feinstein acknowledged the magnitude of global challenges the UN confronts. “In fact, I think in all of my public service career this may be the most challenging time we faced on the global stage and I don’t say that lightly,” she said.

Schiff described the UN’s scope and breadth, “from peace-keeping and peace-building to conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance,” and echoed his support. “In an increasingly globalized world it is imperative the United States maintain a strong commitment to the UN if we are to have any hope of securing a safer and more prosperous world for generations to come,” he said.

The Program on Global Health & Human Rights at the USC Institute for Global Health focuses on research, but also training the next generation and how it should address these issues, Gruskin said. Its position at USC allows Gruskin and her team to take a dynamic and multidisciplinary approach, working with 19 professional schools and diverse faculty and students across disciplines to address known and anticipated inequalities and injustices.

“This is really the time to stand up, all of us, for the health, dignity and human rights of all people here in Los Angeles and around the world,” she said.

For further information about the United Nations Association of the USA, Southern California Division, visit www.una-socal.org or contact Barry Simon, President, at 310-699-2180.