The 10th December 2018 marks 70 years since the ratification of the Human Rights Declaration.
The internationally binding document put human rights firmly at the front of the public conscience and moreover enshrined human rights in law. At the launch of the website dedicated to the declaration, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said,
“The Universal Declaration has helped countless people gain greater freedoms and equality,”
Before the universal declaration of human rights came into being, there were several different documents that came onto the world stage permitting individual rights to be safeguarded, but only to a certain extent. The Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights (1791) are all documents that permitted states to guarantee the rights of man.
The 19th century saw efforts to end the slave trade, which led to the establishment of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1919, but there was still a gap; there was not one universally applicable legal document to ensure the protection of human rights laws.
As the world found itself in social, humanitarian and economic ruins after the second World War it was clear that a universal solution was needed to sustain peace. The failure of the League of Nations, the first attempt at an international intergovernmental organisation, meant the world was ready for, and needed, an international peacekeeping mechanism.
On 26 June 1945 the UN Charter was signed and then ratified by the 5 permanent members: China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US; the same countries that now make up the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Once the United Nations was established it was not long until the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) were published in 1948.
What have we learned? “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”
Wisdom is meant to come with age, so the saying goes, but how far has the UDHR helped international human rights? Sadly, the existence of the 30 UDHR Articles have not stopped various governments, organisations and individuals from infringing upon the basic rights of others.
In fact, in 2018 human rights abuses are widespread; from the rights of a journalist imprisoned for exposing the tyranny of a government, to civilians targeted in war, or children forced to work in appalling conditions. As a report by Human Rights Watch points out,
while we celebrate the achievements of the UDHR we need to ‘acknowledge the gap between its promise and its implementation.’
Overall though the importance of these 30 Articles cannot be overstated. Their existence has stopped countless cases of human rights abuse worldwide, has held the guilty accountable, and has acted as a deterrent for other violators, and without them, this would not have been possible.