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Major celebration of human rights starts

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Declaration of Human Rights, Stand Up 4 Human Rights, 70th anniversary, UN, year-long campaignBy supporting the human rights of others, we also stand up for our own rights and those of generations to come.

The United Nations has kicked off a year-long campaign to honour the foundational human rights document, which marks its 70th anniversary next year.

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.

We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination; rights which are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law.

And international human rights law lays down the obligations of governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, “human rights have been one of the three pillars of the United Nations, along with peace and development,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for Human Rights Day, which is observed each year on 10 December.

As “one of the world’s most profound and far-reaching international agreements,” the Universal Declaration proclaimed the inalienable rights of every human being regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Guterres said that while human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted, it has helped countless people to gain greater freedom and security, and has also helped to prevent violations, obtain justice for wrongs, and strengthen national and international human rights laws and safeguards.

“Despite these advances, the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration are being tested in all regions,” he said, citing rising hostility towards human rights and those who defend them by people who want to profit from exploitation and division.

“We see hatred, intolerance, atrocities and other crimes. These actions imperil us all,” he said, and urged people and leaders everywhere to stand up for all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural – and for the values that underpin hopes for a fairer, safer and better world for all.

The campaign was started on 10 December at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris – the site where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 – and a further event held on 11 December at the UN Headquarters in New York, and with UN Information Centres around the world launching their commemorative activities.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said this one-year period “will also, I hope, be a year of intense and profound reflection on the continuing and vital importance of each and every one of the 30 articles contained in this extraordinary document.

“The Universal Declaration was drawn up by a world wounded by war, the remedy prescribed by States to inoculate their populations against their own worst instincts and omissions.

“It was drawn up by representatives, and endorsed by leaders, of countries from all continents, who were – to quote from the Declaration’s preamble – fully, recently, sorely, aware that ‘disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind’.”

“It was drawn up with the memory and knowledge of the Holocaust, and the attitudes and accumulation of policies and practices that made it possible, seared on the conscience of those who failed to prevent it.”

“It was drawn up to cover not only civil and political rights, but also social, economic and cultural rights, in the full understanding that you cannot have development without human rights and you cannot have a full enjoyment of human rights without development – and peace and security depend on both.”

“Today, as World War II and the Holocaust grow distant, that awareness appears to be evaporating at an alarming rate, and the enormous progress that has been achieved through progressive enactment of human rights principles, as laid out in the Universal Declaration, is being increasingly forgotten or wilfully ignored.”

“The universality of rights is being contested across much of the world.

“It is under broad assault from terrorists, authoritarian leaders and populists who seem only too willing to sacrifice, in varying degrees, the rights of others, for the sake of power. Their combined influence has grown at the expense of liberal democratic order, peace and justice.”

“We see mounting cruelties and crimes being perpetrated in conflicts across the world; an antagonistic nationalism on the rise, with surging levels of racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination taking root, even in countries which had grown complacent in the belief these were problems of the past, rather than ones that could all too easily re-emerge and reassert themselves.”

“We see measures to end discrimination and promote greater justice – some of the fruits of the Universal Declaration and the immense body of law and practice it has spawned – starting to be being dismantled by those who seek profit from hatred and exploitation.

“We see a backlash against many human rights advances, including on the rights of women and those of many minorities, in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe.”

“We see political leaders who openly deny the fundamental truth of article 1 of the Universal Declaration which states that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. Political leaders who defy their forbears’ promise ‘to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance’.”

“The Universal Declaration is a commitment, by all States, that they will protect and promote human rights. It is essential that we continue to hold those States to account.

“But human rights are too important to be left to States alone – too precious to all of us, and to our children.

“As we enter the 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration, it is right that we should honour its achievements and pay tribute to its inspired architects.

“At the same time, we should be under no illusions: the legacy of the Universal Declaration is facing threats on many fronts.

“If we let our commitment to uphold human rights drift  – if we turn aside when they are abused – they will slowly shrivel and die.

“If that happens, the cost in human life and misery will be immense, and the whole of humanity will pay a heavy price.”

“Ultimately it is up to us, to ‘we the people,’ for whom this Declaration was written.

“It is up to me; to you; to everyone in every city, province and country where there is still space to express thoughts, participate in decisions, raise one’s voice.

“We need to act to promote peace, fight back against discrimination, and to uphold justice.”

“We must organise and mobilise in defence of human decency, in defence of a better common future.

“We must not stand by, bewildered, as the post-World War II system of values unravels around us. We must take a robust and determined stand: by resolutely supporting the human rights of others, we also stand up for our own rights and those of generations to come.”

To take part, visit the Stand Up 4 Human Rights website.

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