The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
A right of equal access to public goods and services is rooted in the rights to ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ With these rights, the Declaration of Independence asserts the concept of equality as a founding principle, while nearly a century later in the nation’s “second founding” after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution goes further in guaranteeing equal protection of the law. These documents create the principle from which a right of equal access is derived, including access to education, health care, housing, and environmental protection.
Throughout American history, the concepts of liberty and equality have been intertwined but also conflicted.
Current trends within public education, health care, housing, and environmental protection reflect burgeoning disparities in opportunity. Public policy in recent years has centered around the promotion of macroeconomic growth but has done little to guarantee individual and societal well-being, reinforcing the focus of the private sector on maximizing shareholder value, often at the expense of employees and consumers. These policies have exacerbated the inequality of access to public goods and services, such as health and education, among significant portions of the population, who lack the agency and the opportunity to sustain themselves. It is critical that the United States responds to the public health and economic crises by protecting liberty, equality, and securing equal access to public goods and services.
Nearly 61 million Americans have a disability, making the group the country’s largest minority. Individuals with disabilities cut across race, gender, and sexual orientation. Since people with disabilities are disproportionately older, they have also made up an expanding share of the general population as the U.S. population has aged. Unlike other more fixed identities, any person can become disabled at any time, due to severe injury, illness, trauma, pregnancy, or simply aging. In fact, while only 11% of people under ages 18 to 64 reported having a disability in 2017, 35% of people ages 65 and over reported having one, illustrating the fluid nature of disability status.
Disabilities include a range of conditions, both visible and invisible, and including physical, mental, and cognitive impairments—all of which require different types of protection against different types of discrimination. These complexities make understanding and advancing disability rights more challenging. Moreover, people with disabilities continue to face challenges as a result of policies that affect them both directly and indirectly. Renewing rights for people with disabilities requires both reinstating and extending equal protections, and affirmatively expanding accommodations to better allow them to participate meaningfully in all aspects of society.
See other issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities project here.
"Queer" people have always been here—since antiquity, they’ve lived across communities and intersections of every class, color, creed, condition, and country. Though not always marked as “deviant” or designated “illegal,” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people have also more often than not been victims of personal prejudice, social and cultural stigma, and legal and political discrimination. This has certainly been the case in the modern era, the same time that “human rights” has gained currency and frequency as a rallying cry for various struggles and peoples seeking freedom, equality, and justice. That’s is not a coincidence: as the formal infrastructure of human rights and state-sanctioned homophobia expanded simultaneously in the middle of the 20th century, so, too, did the modern movement for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States first emerge. This “paradox of progress”—the persistent battle between progress and prejudice—is a key characteristic of the history of social justice movements, including those for queer liberation and rights.
See the full Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here.
“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse