Human Rights Day is held every year on the 10th of December. More than just another United Nations formality, it recognises the Declaration of Human Rights – a building block of freedom and democracy upon which our modern liberties are based.
We take these for granted most of the time, but in a world where human rights are by no means a given, it is worth reflecting upon them and celebrating that in our part of the globe, at least, we have come this far.
There are many official and symbolic international days on the annual calendar. While they mean well and aim to engage the world’s populace in an environment of fraternity and solidarity – or indeed to rally them around important causes – most pass us by as the somewhat superfluous creations of distant and at times self-serving bureaucrats.
International Human Rights Day sounds like a classic example, yet it is worth reflecting upon and even revelling in, for on the 10th of December each year we pause to feel grateful for the liberties that we in the West enjoy, while also taking note that in anno 2017, a large part of humanity continues to be deprived of freedom, dignity and the means for what we have come to consider ‘normal’ existence.
More specifically, the event observed every 10th of December commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly on the same day in 1948 – at the birth of the organisation whose very purpose is to bring the world together in close cooperation.
While it has not always been capable of avoiding, ending or even dealing with international conflict, the UN has done much to foster international mediation and cooperation, and to this day remains the best tool we have on a global scale.
In fact, the very existence of a declaration of human rights is a victory in itself, for it was the first time in known human history that mankind acknowledged and guaranteed the rights of all to the pursuit of peace, freedom, happiness and prosperity.
This is significant because it marks the desire to evolve into a new stage of civilisation after many thousands of years of violence, exploitation and misery. The human story is one of war and of waste, but moments such as these shine as brightly with promise as the greatest advances in technological and medical know-how.
The day itself is celebrated on all levels, from grassroots awareness at schools to community activities, municipal and regional events, to high-level conferences and commemorations.
The UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights and the Nobel Peace Prize are traditionally awarded on the 10th of December to mark the occasion, but even if you’re not on the guest list for the ceremony in Oslo it is worth taking a moment to be grateful for the liberties we have come to take for granted.
Though first proclaimed in 1950, Human Rights Day remains as relevant now as then, as multiple millions are still trapped in dictatorial systems, deprived of human dignity and the basic conditions for a normal, productive life, while even on the fringes of our society, poverty, slavery and human trafficking are on the increase.
It sometimes feels like we are slipping back rather than moving forward, so we owe it to the coming generations as well as ourselves to continue to promote the universal principles of liberty and freedom, not least because they foster peace and stability.
Though understandably embattled in many ways, globalisation in its positive form has contributed greatly to this process, and remains perhaps the most powerful tool of all to ensure the ultimate dream: a peaceful world.
The declaration of 1948 regards this as “…a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations,” towards which institutions and societies should “strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”
Words Michel Cruz