Seventy years ago today, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. Described by Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the agreement’s drafting committee, as an “international Magna Carta of all mankind”, it was the first international agreement on the fundamental principles of human rights and a vow from nations across the globe that the terrible atrocities of the Second World War would never be allowed to happen again.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sent a powerful message in international solidarity against fascism and set out a roadmap to a new world but its principal authors did not intend it to be a passive instrument. It was the intention that it would be picked up and wielded by oppressed individuals and groups throughout the world to challenge tyranny and fight against injustice.
The Universal Declaration has been likened to Magna Carta. Credit: Jem Collins/ KMTV
Although it is not legally binding, the Universal Declaration has inspired more than 200 documents since its proclamation, including constitutions all over the world and a vast number of national laws and treaties at every level.
They [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.
Commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration in 1958, just a few years before her death, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke eloquently about the true meaning of human rights and where they begin.
“They 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 neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”
“Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
We try to get into those small places and tell the stories of ordinary people in the UK fighting for their rights.
This idea that we must strive to protect rights everywhere, starting in the places closest to home, both where we live and work, is central to our ethos at RightsInfo. We try to get into those small places and tell the stories of ordinary people in the UK fighting for their rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations Credit: UN Photo
The UDHR was adopted a lifetime ago and in that 70 years we have seen many advancements in human rights, as well as the institutions and laws which safeguard them, such as the Human Rights Convention which was incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
Our year-long, ‘A Lifetime of Human Rights’ series, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration and celebrating its impact, begins today. We will tell a range of stories from the perspectives of influencers, campaigners and ordinary people who have fought for rights and the rights of others.
So, today is a time to celebrate what has been achieved in the lifetime since the Universal Declaration was adopted, but also be mindful that injustice prevails even in the UK. In a society with entrenched inequality, both structural and economic, we must never allow human rights to become the preserve of the privileged and we must be resolute in our fight to preserve the laws and institutions which protect them. Even today, on Human Rights Day, the conviction of 15 human rights campaigners under terror-related legislation for blocking a deportation flight is a stark reminder of how easily our human rights can be eroded.
If you have had to fight to have your human rights recognised or respected in the UK please get in touch with us. We want to feature your stories in our ‘A Lifetime of Human Rights’ series, over the next 12 months.