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Human Rights exhibit comes to Naha

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-06-26

For centuries human rights have been the basis for all societies claiming freedom. Trying to win human rights for many of the world's minorities, however, is a struggle that still goes on today. Everyday, people witness gruesome tragedies that occur because of the lack of human rights in many places, or in some cases, their complete non-existence. Although persecution and suffering have become a common experience for many people across the globe, the essence of human rights often escapes the daily thoughts of others. In trying to reflect back on, and to learn lessons from, the pain humans have inflicted upon each other, a free exhibition titled "Toward a Century of Humanity - Human Rights in Today's World" is currently taking place in Naha.

Sponsored by the Soka Gakkai Peace Committee, the exhibit is a series of photographs that disclose the brutality and indecency of acts against humanity. From forced child labor to "ethnic cleansing," the many faces of inhumane treatment are all captured in this very powerful exhibit. Moving across the world, the exhibit shows that there are no boundaries for violations against human rights - they often exist in our own back yards.

This special project began in 1990 and made its first appearance in April of 1993 at the United Nations headquarters in Tokyo. It then appeared in Montreal during September of that same year, followed by showings in Toronto and Geneva. It has since been viewed around the world by over 280,000 people in 26 different cities. In 1995 the exhibit became a part of the United Nations "Decade for Human Rights Education" project.

Soka Gakkai organized the exhibit to create more awareness and to bring attention to human rights issues. The photographs have been divided into several themes, each telling the story of a particular place and people. Organizers have tried to include photos which best describe the violation of human rights, but have noted that any one of the areas covered could be devoted entirely to its own exhibit.

"Wars in the past mostly involved the larger countries of the world taking over smaller nations, trying to gain or control more territory. Recently, however, wars are occurring because of ethnic tensions. This is what makes human rights issues so important today," said Masanori Otaka of Soka Gakkai's Office of Activities for Peace and Culture.

Soka Gakkai International is a NGO that advocates peace, education and culture. It was founded on the belief in Buddhism, and is very active in humanitarian activities. In 1983 the organization received consultative status from the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and it has been particularly supportive of the "Decade for Human Rights Education."

Although all of the explanations for the exhibit are written in Japanese, the photographs carry with them a universal understanding. The coordinators for the event extended an invitation to all foreigners living on Okinawa. "The conscience level of human rights is relatively high in America. I think it would be very nice if Americans and also other foreigners come and see the exhibit to reaffirm the importance of human rights," explained Soka Gakkai Event Coordinator Susumu Yasuda.

The exhibit is being held at the Okinawa International Peace Hall (Okinawa Kokusai Heiwa Kaikan), which is located on Highway 58. To get there, head north from Naha's Tomarin Port (Kariyushi Urban Resort), staying in your left lane. After you pass the "Ringer Hut" fast food restaurant, the Okinawa International Peace Hall will be the next tall building on your left. The exhibit is open from 10 am until 9 pm. Entrance and parking is for free.

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