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Remembering the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – December 10, 1948


UN Photo

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) announced the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the accompanying 30 rights and freedoms that continue to remain the foundational principles of international law today. The UDHR was the crowning human rights achievement of the U.N.


The UDHR’s adoption came on the heels of the end of the Second World War with the horrors, abuses, and atrocities of the Holocaust. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the guiding light advocating for passage of the UDHR. She was joined by 50 U.N. member states formulating the 30 rights and freedom’s list. 


In 1958, the tenth anniversary of the UDHR, Roosevelt gave a speech at the U.N. titled, “Where Do Human Rights Begin?” In this significant speech, she captured the essence of the importance of human rights. She stated the following: 


“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the [neighborhood] he [or she] lives in; the school or college he [or she] attends; the factory, farm, or office where he [or she] works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child [seek] equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”


This document (UDHR) prompted a paradigm shift in the thinking of the day where “power politics” ruled and the rights of human beings were secondary. Now governments of the world would have to recognize the rights set forth in the UDHR. Do governments today always adhere to these standards? No, of course not; but now the importance of the rights of individuals was placed on the agenda where they previously had not existed.


If not for the courage of the leaders of the day, we would not be celebrating the day we call Human Rights Day. The theme in 2019 is “Youth Standing Up for Human Rights.” Across the world, we have seen young people in Hong Kong, Chile, Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East take to the streets demanding greater democratic freedoms and respect for human rights.


On the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the youth of the world have chosen to stay silent no more. Their leadership has provided inspiration and the international community should take note. They have decided to put the campaign, “Stand Up for Human Rights,” into action by letting their voices be heard. 


This campaign has been guided by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and was designed as way to motivate and encourage global youth to action. The young 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, ignited a movement demanding action on the destructive consequences of climate change. The participation of our youth is a key aspect of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their participation in the global system is an extremely important part of effecting real change and pressuring policymakers into making positive decisions that will ultimately impact their lives both now and in the future. 


On January 12, 2018, the OHCHR published a detailed study on youth and human rights as called for based on U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 35/14 (July 18, 2017). The findings of the report “…documented the discrimination and some of the challenges for young people in accessing civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.” 


Some of the highlights showed how youth are not well-represented in political institutions with “…less than 2% of parliamentarians worldwide aged under 30.” Moreover, a larger share of youth in the world are unemployed contributing to 145 million youth living in poverty. 


Such issues affecting our youth demand greater attention from world leaders. On this Human Rights Day, the world cannot look away or ignore the plight of young people. They are the leaders of tomorrow and it is our responsibility to ensure their well-being.