More Important Than Ever – Commemorating the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human rights are universal. Many governments have elaborate constitutions that commit their nations to uphold and respect those values. Yet, globally, respect for human rights seems to be on a fundamental decline.

That is why it is important that we not only commemorate International Human Rights Day to stand fast against the virulent strain of autocracy that has infected humanity, but also so that we emphasize that regardless of which corner of the world any human being hails from, they are endowed with unalienable rights that they cannot be deprived of.

When the world said never again

World War II saw atrocities committed that were counted in millions of lives lost. As the true extent of the Nazi war crimes became apparent, it was more important than ever that such a tragedy is never repeated. In the early days of the United Nations, the General Assembly laid out thirty unalienable rights that every human being is entitled to as a way to encourage member states to adopt and develop the means to protect them.

Thirty articles were adopted by the General Assembly and the overwhelming majority of nations in the world have agreed to abide by them. Those included things such as the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, and religion, freedom against indefinite detention, freedom to having the right to a fair trial, and protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Other rights outline that every human being can participate in their government, ensure adequate health care, education, and be fairly and justly compensated for their labor.

The U.N Declaration of Universal Human Rights is expansive – we strongly encourage you to take a moment and read each one here.

The threat to liberty is highest in a century

When it comes to the United Nations, it is important to know a couple of facts. First, no measure passed by the General Assembly is legally binding upon its member states. Second, it is often up to the member states to enforce the international obligations through the U.N.

Enforcement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remained an open question even when it was debated. Unlike the majority of U.N. General Assembly resolutions, it was a framework agreed upon to give more enforcement mechanisms to protect human rights around the globe. However, the second factor allowed governments to ignore the rights of their citizens.

Unlike most U.N. Resolutions, the United States Senate did ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but the Senate effectively rendered the enforcement a dead letter. While the U.S. Constitution enshrines many rights, others such as the right of people to seek asylum, are severely curtailed by the U.S. government.

Rights are not a suggestion

173 nations are parties to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but the majority of countries are violating these rights.

We’ve seen this over and over in Kashmir, how our people are arrested and detained indefinitely, beaten, denied counsel, and even killed. We’ve seen how religious and cultural heritage is being actively destroyed in the name of “security”.

India voted for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was first drafted, yet now India looks the other way as it commits the very atrocities that the declaration was designed to prevent. Protecting these universal rights has become harder in an age of unprecedented ethnic and political polarization when the U.N. Security Council is always split, and sovereign nations routinely ignore international courts and conventions.

What can be done?

The first thing any dictator or autocrat does is to say, “those people over there are a threat to your liberty”, and use that to justify and push a narrative that they are unworthy of human rights. In an era when social media can amplify the Us vs Them rhetoric, we must resist such overtures when the autocrat squawks lie.

Second, take this one truth to heart:

Human rights are universal.

Regardless of nationality, race, religion, sex, and the many other attributes of what it is to be human, everyone on this planet is endowed with sacred rights.

It becomes paramount to believe that fact. Know your rights and never take them for granted. Speak out against injustice and oppression, because it is only through this that we can hope to secure human rights for the future.