Human rights go beyond traditional American concepts of civil liberties.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in the wake of World War II without dissent, included all kinds of rights – civil and political rights (like the right to free speech and a fair trial), social and economic rights (like the right to food, shelter, and education) and, critically, a right for all people to be treated with dignity – a concept traceable to the French value of fraternité.

At a time when civil liberties in many places around the world–and even here at home–are under siege, could this more expansive vision of our ideals help us to promote freedom, peace, and community?

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a good time to look at what this widely praised document actually says, why its framers thought that all of its values are inextricably interconnected, and America’s track record of implementation of those values.”


Susan Herman is the inaugural Ruth Bader Ginsburg Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School. Like Ginsburg, she served as General Counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. In October 2008, Herman was elected as the seventh President of the ACLU, a position she held until stepping down in January 2021. She teaches courses in Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure, and seminars including Terrorism and Civil Liberties, Law and Literature, COVID-19 and the Constitution, and Current Issues in Constitutional Law.

Herman has written and spoken widely in the areas of Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure.  Her publications include several books as well as articles in law reviews, periodicals, and online venues. Her book, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy (Oxford University Press 2011; paperback edition 2014), was awarded the Roy C. Palmer Civil Liberties Prize.  She has discussed constitutional law issues on radio, including a variety of NPR shows; on television, including programs on CNN, CSPAN, MSNBC, NBC, and PBS; and has been a frequent speaker at conferences and events organized by schools, universities, and law schools; by groups ranging from the Federal Judicial Center to the U.S. Army War College to Wikimania; and at international conferences like Web Summit and Collision.

Elisa Massimino is Visiting Professor of Law and Executive Director of Georgetown’s Human Rights Institute. She also serves as a non-resident senior fellow in national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress.

Massimino joined the Georgetown faculty in 2019 as the Robert F. Drinan, S.J., Chair in Human Rights. Before coming to Georgetown, Massimino was a senior fellow with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a practitioner-in-residence at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. Previously, Massimino spent 27 years—the last decade as president and CEO—at Human Rights First, one of the nation’s leading human rights advocacy organizations.

Massimino has a distinguished record of human rights advocacy in Washington. She has testified before Congress dozens of times; writes frequently for mainstream publications and specialized journals; appears regularly in major media outlets; and speaks to audiences around the country. During her leadership at Human Rights First, the influential Washington publication The Hill consistently named her one of the most effective public advocates in the country; Washingtonian magazine has repeatedly named her one of D.C.’s most influential people in foreign policy.

Penny M. Venetis, host/moderator, is a Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law and the Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise Scholar at Rutgers Law School, where she is the founder and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic.  Her scholarship focuses on the interplay between U.S. constitutional law and international human rights law.    Professor Venetis has litigated cutting-edge issues in state and federal courts throughout the U.S., as well as in international tribunals.  Her lawsuits have covered issues of first impression in the areas of: freedom of speech, voting rights, equal protection, rape and sexual abuse, human trafficking, the Alien Tort Statue, and immigrants’ rights.  Her 1995 Jama lawsuit led to the first federal court decision to find that international human rights law can be applied in damages actions for abuses committed in the U.S.  Her challenge of felony disenfranchisement (state laws that disenfranchise over 5 million U.S. citizens simply because they have felony convictions) is currently being heard by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Professor Venetis was instrumental in drafting and helping to pass FOSTA/SESTA (federal anti-human trafficking legislation), and in introducing “sextortion” into the criminal codes of over 25 states to protect the public, particularly children, from online sexual predators.  Professor Venetis has testified before many legislative bodies around the U.S.  Her work has been covered widely by the media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Politico.