Human Rights Day, Are We Doing Enough?

Let us remember: one book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” – Human rights activist, Malala Yousafzai.

International Human Rights Day is observed on December 10 and marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by The United Nations General Assembly in 1948. 

Declared a “milestone document in the history of human rights”, the UDHR continues to inspire. The timeless message, as tweeted by former UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid bin Ra’ad, is “no voice is too small, no individual too powerless”. We can all make a difference. 

In light of current global conditions, the Human Rights Day 2022 theme is dignity, freedom, and justice for all. This campaign aims to strengthen understanding and promote action in making universal rights achievable for everyone. 

Let’s take a look at the key facts about Human Rights Day, and how we can best defend our basic universal rights. 

Who Started Human Rights Day?

After the horrors of the second world war, leaders from around the world gathered at the United Nations General Assembly. They had a shared goal–to prevent atrocities like the holocaust from ever happening again. They intended to bring about a safer, more equitable world for all.

These leaders acknowledged the fundamental freedoms inherent in us all–that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. 

The result was the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Within the document are 30 statements about human rights and freedoms, read the full version here.

What Does Human Rights Day Mean?

Since its adoption, the UDHR has continued to be a founding source of guidance in the defense of human rights. Global treaties and commitments to respect and advance human rights have sprung forth–all based on this founding ideal of universal human rights.

But has it been enough?

Is The Declaration Binding?

The document, which sets out to protect economic, social, and civil rights, is not binding.

Therefore, despite global recognition and support, the UDHR itself is not legally binding. As such, it stands as an ‘ideal’ of what we want the world to be. Meaning that human rights violations are not always punishable by law.

Modern-Day Human Rights Violations

Human rights violations are rife around the globe. And new challenges are constantly added to the equation. These include racial discrimination, incarceration, starvation, enslavement, threats to LGBTQIA+, and murdering people for no other reason than their religious beliefs. These are just a few modern-day violations.

Some holocaust survivors are still denied their human rights to this day, and we need only look at refugee camps around the world to see modern human rights violations in action.

Gender-based violence violates almost all human rights treaties. As the war in Ukraine continues, it has sparked a crisis for women and girls. Now that safety and security are at an all-time low, reports indicate that gender-based violence, including sexual abuse, is on the rise. The full extent is not yet known.

Human Rights Day, Why Do We Celebrate?

On the 75th anniversary, the UDHR is up against new challenges and opportunities, like the fallout from COVID-19, and “crises like climate change, conflict, and natural disasters”.

In celebrating, we acknowledge that everyone regardless of age, race, sex, or nationality deserves the same universal human rights. 

As a world, we have a long way to go in achieving our goals. The commitment to achieving equality and dignity is ongoing. But continued efforts by leaders to set good examples are a step in the right direction.

What Can You Do?

Taking place on December 10 are local and global events to commemorate Human Rights Day. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Learn about the UNDHR, a simplified version is available here
  • Create awareness by spreading the word
  • Support organizations that work to protect and promote human rights
  • Read articles and books by human rights activists
  • Support UN Campaigns like Free & Equal, HeForShe, and StandUp4HumanRights
  • Stand up for the rights of those that are discriminated against
  • Discuss what it means to be ‘free and equal’
  • Get the kids involved with fun activities that help them learn about human rights
  • Hold or take part in a candlelight vigil.

Everyone can participate. All it takes is standing up for human rights, and international days are powerful advocacy tools.

World leaders may have created the UDHR, but ultimately, it’s communities that make upholding universal rights a reality through our activism and awareness.

Kristen Rive-Thomson


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