It was nearly 70 years ago this month that the United Nations adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On Dec. 10, 1948, the world marked a milestone in human development: An international accord that all people are entitled to basic rights and protections, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Ever since, Dec. 10 has been Human Rights Day.
What Rights Are Protected?
Going far beyond the freedoms respected by countries like the United States, the Declaration of Human Rights takes a firm stance that everyone is entitled to equal dignity.
Among the rights protected: the right to life, to leisure and rest, to be recognized by the law, to be presumed innocent, and to social security. Along with those rights, Article 29 recognizes that all people have a duty to their community — only by honoring those duties to others is it possible to have a society in which personal freedoms can exist.
The Birth of Human Rights Day
Human Rights Day was formalized in the early 1950s, following the passage of a resolution inviting all UN states to establish a day of recognition. Following the destruction and loss of life of World War II, people all over the world were eager for a show of solidarity, and the event was immediately popular. Americans placed around 200,000 advance orders for a stamp commemorating the day.
Since then, the Declaration of Human Rights has been the basis of a nationally recognized Thanksgiving holiday, of honors given to African Americans and upholding other observances of human rights.
It’s important to note that the work of securing human rights did not end. The document is non-binding, and operates more like a declaration of principles to which all member states are expected to aspire. Clearly, many — including America — still fall far short to this day.
Work Left Undone
As a result, the United Nations is asking people around the world to observe Human Rights Day by organizing readings of the declaration in their community — it’s the second-most translated document in the world, after the Bible.
Public officials are asked to mark the anniversary of the signing with a ceremony, and to plan events that promote the declaration such as an art festival or concert. The United Nations also suggests that government officials make pocket-sized versions available at libraries and other public offices.
And beyond just the commemorations on Dec. 10, members of the public can take action to promote civil rights in the communities and around the world. Citizens are encouraged to volunteer with rights organizations, and to share the stories of people whose voices are often overlooked. Government officials are encouraged to adopt a plan to advance human rights, and to ensure that legislation conforms to the standards established in the Declaration. And companies are encouraged to work with the UN to promote the Declaration to customers.
In the nearly 70 years since the declaration was signed, humanity’s made great strides towards equality — but we have yet to reach the ideals laid out by the original drafters. It’s possible that as a species we may never measure up to every provision of the document, but those among us who believe in equality and dignity and respect will never stop striving.
Featured image by RapidEye via iStock