Sixty Years Ago Today

scale2aA beacon of hope and aspiration shines throughout the world today, casting a shadow (at least for a moment) on the financial crisis that has engulfed our lives. 

The reason for this joyous day is to be found sixty years ago, when the United Nations’ General Assembly gathered in Paris to sign a declaration that came to lay the grounds for a morally just global society. Commonly referred to as the Magna Carta for all humanity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is (as Pope John Paul II described it) “one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time”.

Chaired by the former U.S. First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, the commission to promote human rights was formed in the aftermath of World War II (with the words “never again”) and for 60 years, today, its preamble and 30 articles have set forth the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all people, everywhere, are entitled.

During these years the Declaration has become an incredibly powerful tool for those of us seeking to deter governments (and individuals) from violating the rights and freedoms of their people. Respected among many countries as part of customary international law, it has, along with the UN Charter, provided the UN with the moral and the (crucial) legal basis for actions against violators of human rights. As a result the vision that all people are equal, that all people are entitled to the same rights and that no one has the authority to deny any person these rights, has been spread to all corners of the world (with the help of hoards of activists, “ordinary Joes” and diplomats) and influenced individuals to stand up for humanity and fight the unjust. 

slaveryOne remarkable example of the Declaration’s impressive influence is the abolishment of child marriages and female genital mutilation in more than three thousand Senegalese villages following a two-year course in human rights and democracy. The purpose of the course was to give the population the tools and knowledge they need to create the change they seek, the abolition of the two customs was not a part of the program. Rather the decision came as a result of the villagers’ own reasoning and their realization of the human rights. (I myself believe there are few people who, if they truly understand these rights, would disagree with them)

Two other significant achievements are the ban on torture, which was adopted as an international convention in 1972, and the European Convention on Human Rights, which made articles from the Declaration part of national law in several European countries.

However, despite these great achievements (and great they are!) human rights violations are all too common, even in countries as prominent as the U.S. (abduction and torture to name two). Furthermore three billion people (almost half of humanity) are denied the basic human rights (such as the right to food and clean water). In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,”The challenges we face today are as daunting as those confronting the Declaration’s drafters”. 

This day should serve as a reminder of the difficulties we still face and keep us, who are spared (at least for now) from the most devastating effects of disaster, poverty and instability, from turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.

“On this Human Rights Day, it is my hope that we will all act on our collective responsibility to uphold the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. We can only honour the towering vision of that inspiring document when its principles are fully applied everywhere, for everyone.” – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 

On the 60th anniversary of this declaration we should be grateful for the accomplishments we have made and that  the hard work of so many people has pushed the global society towards a more just and equal future. I am confident that the world will continue along the path toward global justice and equality (for one thing president-elect Barack Obama has taken on the task to end U.S. torture and close Guantanamo Bay). These years have proven that humanity, when willing, is capable of remarkable deeds and has the tools to spread equality even further. 


— Kajsa, Admin Future for America 


~ by politicsoftomorrow on December 10, 2008.

One Response to “Sixty Years Ago Today”

  1. A very impressiv blog (once again). Hopefully Obama will be able to close down Guantanomo and send a clear message that the most powerful nation take Human Rights seriosly and not only when it suits their interests.

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