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The Maastricht Diplomat

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70 Years of Human Rights? – Lessons from History

This the fourth installment of ‘Lessons from History’, where we reflect on the big anniversaries of significant historical events and their repercussions today.

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’ (Article 1)

This simple, yet radical idea, is stated in the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights (UDHR) since 10 December 1948. Representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world collectively worked on the declaration, proclaimed by the UN. Shortly published after WWII, it was designed to prevent the repetition of the horrific human rightsviolations during the war.

The human rights movement has made progress in the past seven decades, but abuses still occur with saddening regularity. Today, on the document’s 70thbirthday, let us reflect on whether this document has impacted history and changed lives around the globe.

The UDHR, agreed upon by the then 58 members of the United Nations, is now the most translated document in the world. Decline of poverty, inequality,child labour, and the increased access of minorities and women are some achievements. Additionally, the declaration has been used as a basis for further international treaties and organizations, such as the UN Refugee Agency, establishing the 1951 Refugee Convention.

‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in thisdeclaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,national or social origin, property, birth or other status’ (Article 2) Article 2, UDHR

However, there are still many ongoing, unacceptable challenges. 880 million people today live in urban slums. 1 out of 10 children is still engaged in child labour. 60 million children did not attend primary school in 2014. In 2016, every 4 days a journalist was killed. 700 million women were married before the age of 18. Let this sink in.

Some issues regarding Human Rights protection such as global inequality, gender issues, migration and unstable democracies have been present ever since way before the UDHR was even declared. Yet, recently, new threats, such as climate change or the limitation of our freedom of expression(online) have been arising. These matters pose new challenges, illustrating one again the ever-present significance of the UDHR.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provided us with ground rulesfor respecting the life of others. The remaining issue is that the UN does not have the right to do anything, except to ‘promote’ or ‘encourage’ respect for human rights. Because of no legal explicit force, the majority of countries in the world (57%) have no national institution tasked with enforcing human rights and the UDHR. Additionally, citizens’ still vote for politicians disregarding these human rights, for example in Brazil and the Philippines. After 70 years of progress on human rights, we need much more leadership rooted in respect forthese rights and not steeped in hatred, fear, or inequality.

Frankly, all of us should be raising our voices and standing up in support of common humanity and against practices which de-humanize our world. The anniversary of the declaration is an opportunity to not only celebrate its successes, but also to recommit ourselves to the principles outlined. These still current issues are the reason why the UDHR still matters greatly and why people across the world need to work on upholding these promised recognitions. So, open your eyes and be part of the chance by becoming actively involved through supporting initiatives around you. For example, Amnesty International or UNICEF, both active in Maastricht, need your help. Remember, we are all born free and equal in dignity and right.


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