‘It is absolutely clear that we need to regain the universality of human rights, the indivisibility of human rights, and we need to find a new energy that motivates young people around the world.’ Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
In the wake of two world wars and a mass refugee crisis, 51 countries came together to form the United Nations, hoping to secure peace around the globe. December 10th 2022 marks 74 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Now available in over 500 languages and accepted by 193 countries, the UDHR has come to be a cornerstone of human rights all over the world regardless of origin, race, gender, or religion. Yet there is no clear mechanism for its implementation.
Many have raised concerns over the impact and futility of the UDHR in a world where so many people continue to suffer. Whilst many states claim to operate under the framework of the UDHR, there is no system in place to hold them accountable leaving populations vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuse. This is the reality for so many communities that we seek to serve.
In light of next year’s milestone anniversary of 75 years, the UN has launched a year-long campaign showcasing the UDHR by focusing on its legacy, relevance, and activism. As the world braces itself for new and ongoing challenges, the values and rights enshrined in the UDHR are more pivotal than ever in shaping humanity’s collective action.
It is through this lens that the UDHR needs to be considered. Shifting our perception of the impact and efficacy of the UDHR from a redundant legislative framework towards a more practical set of guiding principles is crucial to our understanding of human rights. After all, human rights should be a prerequisite for human progress and peace.
The Covid-19 pandemic revealed to us the precariousness of society as we know it and served to reinforce the importance of our individual and collective human rights and freedoms that we so often take for granted. This Human Rights Day, I am reminded of the privilege of being able to take our human rights for granted as so many vulnerable communities across the world do not have this privilege.
When we look at our own work, it is abundantly clear that there is still so much to do. It is imperative that we recognise that although the UDHR states that ‘everyone is entitled to all human rights and freedoms’, many people are robbed of having them. If we are to see every person’s potential fulfilled, we must continue to place human rights at the heart of all that we do.
It is with this voice that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights speaks. ‘Finding a new energy to motivate young people’ is crucial if humanity is to restore, uphold and build upon the UDHR’s legacy. And in times when we witness the rights of individuals not being upheld, we have a moral duty and obligation to speak up. The UDHR calls us to assume our roles as active global citizens by standing up for our rights as well as for the rights of others. It is only once this is achieved that we may begin to see peace and progress around the world.