Today is International Human Rights Day. Celebrated across the world, the aims of observing this special day of importance is to generate support and awareness for numerous causes and issues that we recognise and also to celebrate human rights and what right’s defenders, activists and advocates have achieved since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.
This year we celebrate the anniversary of the UDHR in its 70th year as well as the 50th anniversaries of our two international covenants- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Together these two instruments have protected and continue to be a base for the protection of human rights and respect for fundamental freedoms such as free speech and freedom from fear or want. The theme for this year is “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always”. This is a fitting theme for this year as news coverage shows that human rights have been considered by some governments, industries and even individuals as being temporary, optional or even removeable.
In the last year, the fear of terrorist attacks and the impact of refugee influx led to a scaling back of human rights in Europe and some other regions. In China, Ethiopia, India and Russia, fears that social media will energise social and political movements helped to drive a disturbing global trend: the adoption of repressive new laws and policies targeting civil society. Governments across the world have begun to treat human rights not as an essential part of the foundation of our societies, or as an essential check on power but as an optional choice that can be ignored.
Human Rights are not optional, and it is the responsibility of activists and citizens alike to remind governments that they cannot be arbitrarily denied or overwritten by repressive laws. Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the UDHR which later became her legacy, pointed out this responsibility that citizens and governments alike have to uphold the value of human rights:
“Where after all do human rights begin? In small places, close to home- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world […] 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”.
Also celebrated on this day is the fact that human rights are inalienable rights that everyone is inherently entitled to as being a human being- regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Our society is constantly changing and diversifying and it is important to commit to protecting and respecting the unifying values of equality, justice and human dignity. Human rights are relevant to each of us every day and when the values of humanity that we build ourselves on are abandoned, we are all at greater risk. This is why we must stand up for our rights and those of others too.
Today should celebrate and advocate each of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and those of the ICCPR and ICESCR as economic, social and cultural rights are becoming increasingly important and their protection is equally as imperative as the protection of civil and political rights. Use today to ask how your society and your government can respect your rights and freedoms, feel free to post on social media using the hashtag #Standup4HumanRights or get in touch with us here at Citizens Rights Watch for more information!