The story of this humanitarian declaration began with a smart idea and came to fruition when combined with unremitting efforts over the years following the establishment of the UN in 1945.
The declaration was issued with the following words by Eleanor Roosevelt, the then-first lady of the United States and the head of the UN Human Rights Commission: “Today, we stand before a great event in the history of the world and the history of the human race... which is the approval of the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The celebration of Human Rights Day was officially launched in 1950 when the UNGA issued Resolution 423, which called on all states and international organisations to adopt 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.
The impetus behind the universal celebration of human rights, and before it, the issuance of the Universal Declaration, was the scourge of atrocities and violations of these rights during the Second World War, and the desire not to repeat them.
The theme of this year's celebration of Human Rights Day is: "Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All." The Universal Declaration stresses in its preamble that "recognition of the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."
When the UNGA adopted the Universal Declaration, with 48 member states supporting it and eight abstaining, it was declared “a common standard of achievement for all people and nations, towards which individuals and societies must endeavor to pursue progressive national and international measures to secure recognition of human rights globally and effectively.”
The Universal Declaration includes a wide range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Although this declaration does not carry any mandatory legal obligations as a mere declaration that is not subject to ratification by states, its value lies in the fact that it formed the first codification of the human rights process and moved it from the national framework to the international framework. It has also become a source of inspiration for the preparation of many international and regional human rights conventions.
The Universal Declaration is the world’s most important human rights document. It strengthens the concepts of dignity and non-discrimination, and the associated values such as equality, justice and rule of law.
Today, the general agreement of all member states of the United Nations on the basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration has also given the concepts more strength and highlighted the importance of human rights in our daily lives.
The Universal Declaration came to confirm that the basis of freedom, justice and peace in the world comes from recognising the inherent dignity of all human beings and equal and inalienable rights for all.
Human experience has proven that ignoring human rights has led to actions whose barbarism has stirred the human conscience. This has confirmed the importance of calling for the emergence of a world in which all persons enjoy freedom of speech and belief, freedom from fear and poverty, and live in an atmosphere of social progress and improving standards of living, with human rights enjoying the protection of the legal system on the basis of common denominators and understanding of these rights, so that no one is forced to rebel against tyranny and persecution.
As the world celebrates the 74th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration this year, many regions of the world are still witnessing numerous violations of human rights and a decline in the enjoyment of basic rights, in light of the spread of epidemics and diseases, chief among which is the COVID-19 pandemic and the climatic and environmental deterioration from global warming.
The world is also witnessing an increase in terrorist operations, armed conflicts and wars that have claimed many victims; an increase in the number of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers; the shrinking of the democratic space due to the restrictions imposed by some countries on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; an increase in impunity due to the failure to hold accountable and punish those who committed crimes; and the spread of racism, discrimination, inequality, intolerance and hatred.
The celebration of Human Rights Day is an opportunity to reaffirm that all human rights are interdependent, universal and indivisible, and that they cannot be taken away as they are linked to the reality of human existence. Moreover, all human beings have the right to obtain them on an equal basis and without discrimination regardless of race, color, religion, gender, language or social status, and that they should not be restricted except in cases of necessity. In addition, they are essential to ensuring peace, stability, security, democracy, rule of law and sustainable development.
It is also an opportunity to emphasise the importance of states taking all necessary measures to realise and enjoy human rights, implement their obligations under international and regional human rights conventions, protect people from human rights violations, and disseminate awareness of the values contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other international conventions.
Rebuilding a more just and equitable world that accommodates all without discrimination, taking steps towards the future that we aspire to, and achieving prosperity and a decent life for all humanity begins with respect of human rights and an end to their violations, and the affirmation of the right of people to live in dignity and freedom without restrictions.
*The writer is a human rights officer at the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights.