Happy Human Rights Day

Today, 10 December, is Human Rights Day, and it is a special one. Human Rights Day celebrates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly.

For some people, the Declaration is an aspirational wishlist of elitist ideals, for others it represents the absolute basic standards that every human being is entitled to, regardless of age, gender or nationality. The UN itself takes the latter view, and since Human Rights Day 2007 has been running a yearlong campaign with the them of Dignity and justice for all.

Unlike other human rights treaties, the Declaration is not in itself legally binding. It is however a powerful and succinct statement of the inherent human dignity that we each owe ourselves, and each other.

There are those who criticise human rights as “a criminal’s charter” or internationally as “a terrorist’s charter”. But it is to those whom we most despise that we most often deny rights, and it is in those situations that we expose ourselves to the question – do we actually believe in the rights that we espouse, or do we actually only wish to extend them to those who are similar, familiar. If they are not available to those we despise as well as those we love, then they are not rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises lawful deprivation of certain rights, but not all rights. It also emphasises duties, something that is often forgotten when people criticise the concept of rights – rights and duties are co-dependant.

But it is as a work of writing that I would like you to consider the Declaration – it is not in quite the same technical and legal prose that other treaties are. It is deliberately simple, so that it may be understood, and for that simplicity it is all the more poignant.

I’ll leave you with what are my two favourite rights, both in terms of what they express, and how they express it.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 19.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

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