Human Rights Day

by Dennis L. Stuebing, Ph.D. and Marissa Campbell

At this time of year, there are a lot of ‘designated days’ including World Children’s Day (20 November), International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), Trans Day of Remembrance (20 November), World AIDS Day (1 December), and International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December) to name only a few.  Tomorrow is Human Rights Day.  The other designated days are important as they highlight specific issues or groups of people that deserve acknowledgement.  They remind us of the global commitment that exists especially to those who are vulnerable to discrimination, abuse, exploitation, violence or other forms of oppression.  Human Rights Day is equally important as it draws our attention to that which underpins the other days, dignity, freedom, and justice for all.

10 December was set aside to celebrate the day on which the United Nations (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948).  The Declaration built upon commitments made within the UN Charter when it was established in 1945 and formed the framework for the two subsequent and legally-binding international human rights instruments, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966).  Together with the Declaration, the ICESCR and ICCPR, form what is known as the ‘international bill of rights’ and contain the hard-fought entitlements for all people guaranteed by law.

That last point is an important one.  Human rights didn’t just ‘happen’ because governments around the world wanted recognize their obligations to people through international laws.  Activists lobbied for change and progressive nations of the day acknowledged the impact that global conflict had on people’s lives.  The world had witnessed the Holocaust and other grievous affronts to humanity.  Colonial empires were being dismantled and other systemic and structural forms of violence, exploitation, and racism were being confronted in an attempt to create better conditions for peace and development.  To that end, the global community, states, civil society organizations, and individuals, came together to put to words a design for something better.  That design provides the basis from which governments can be held to account for their actions, or inactions.

But, the normative framework provided by the international bill of rights isn’t a panacea and doesn’t meant that everything is now okay for everyone.  In fact, even after all these years some people are yet to experience what was is enshrined in the UDHR and other human rights laws.  Moreover, we are living in a time when some governments are actively undermining and/or revoking the rights contained within the UDHR.  At the same time, groups inspired by fascism and other ideologies of hate, enact crimes that violate human rights.  Wisdom2Action (W2A) works with communities and organizations, across Canada, and beyond.  Our collaboration and lived experience informs us that discrimination, inequity, and oppression are everyday occurrences for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, and other gender and sexual minorities), people with disabilities, women, children, the elderly, people with mental health issues, people without durable housing options, people who use substances, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

However, Human Rights Day is not about just pointing out the shortfalls or portraying individuals and/or communities solely as victims.  We know that individuals from these, and other marginalized communities are courageous agents of change.  They, and we, continue to advocate for the full realization of all rights for all people.  Solidarity with others strengthens progress for everyone.  Solidarity is needed now more than ever in the face of the rising opposition to human rights and the recognition of the dignity of all people. 

If you’ve never read the UDHR, or if it’s been awhile since you have, I encourage you to take a look at it.  These are your rights.  This is what you are guaranteed, in the words of the Declaration, “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”.  Read the UDHR at: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

Subsequent international human rights legislation has been adopted by the UN, building upon the ‘International Bill of Rights’, including:

  • The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD, 1965)
  • The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979)
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989)
  • The Convention Against Torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT, 1984), and
  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD, 2006).
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