It’s time to celebrate human rights!
Human Rights Day was first declared on December 10, 1950, to celebrate and remind the world each year of the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year marks twenty years since the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was created to carry out the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action of 1993. The UN calls this list of goals the “the most significant human rights document produced in the past 40 years”.
In celebration of Human Rights Day, UNA-GB wants to help inform its readers about both the history of human rights and the difficulties that arise when trying to define and uphold basic rights for the entire world.
History of Human Rights Day
Lessons learned from the failure to stabilize relations between powerful countries after WWI (and the huge amount of death and destruction that ensued) inspired countries to create an international governmental body, the League of Nations. However, it wasn’t until the end of WWII that the stage was set for the institutionalization of our current system of international cooperation. In 1945, the United Nations was born. One of the UN’s first tasks and top priorities was to create a universal set of standards to ensure that the human rights atrocities of the past decades would never again happen unchecked.
The 10th of December, 1948, is the date the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It outlines the basic human rights that should be guaranteed to individuals, starting at the most basic: the right to life and freedom. It describes the responsibility of society to ensure these rights, also including freedom of thought and speech, religion, association, and culture.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a major contributor to the commission that drafted the declaration. She had become an active voice for human rights domestically during her husband’s presidency, and was offered a position on the delegation to the UN after he died in office. After it was drafted, she vouched for the UNDHR to function as a moral call to action rather than a legal treaty. She wanted the language of the treaty to be easily understood by the general public, and hoped that it would rally the people to the world to take back their rights. Now, its provisions have been worked into most national constitutions since its creation, and have become accepted as international law.
UN Day would be announced in 1950, and has served to remind the world about the gains and ground yet to cover each year in the realm of human rights.
Focus: the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Nepal
Indigenous peoples are just one of many groups that are at high risk to become victims of human rights infractions. Indigenous people are defined in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant.
It is difficult to determine whether or not a group is “indigenous;” the name can refer to a minority group, a society that falls outside of the realm of nation-state politics, a tribe or nomadic people, or any other group that has deep ancestral ties. In a world that continuously becomes more interconnected, there are many implications for populations that are not under the complete jurisdiction of classic societal frameworks or governments. These peoples tend to be at high risk for exploitation, marginalization, and other human rights infractions.
The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities estimates that about 37% of the population of Nepal can be called indigenous peoples.
The Newa people, who have been the focus of a UN fellowship that strives to learn about and advocate for indigenous rights, are believed to have had huge impacts on the culture, architecture, and history of Nepal today. Their language, Nepal Bhasa, was the official language of Nepal between the 14th and 18th centuries. One of the gravest problems concerning all of the indigenous people of Nepal is the threat of disintegration of their language and culture.
However, the issue of cultural preservation is complex. For example, another group in Nepal, the Dalits, belong (historically) to the lowest caste in of society (they and similar groups are traditionally known as “untouchables” in both Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan). Discrimination against this group has undeniably caused human rights to be violated in many instances. How does one honor culture while also ensuring that the wishes and rights of these groups are represented in the international governing structure?
Other challenges concerning the land that indigenous people live on and their status in society are common. They are often victims of biopiracy when ancient foods, medicines, etc. are discovered and patented by foreign companies. In Nepal and India, this is particularly a threat in the realm of medicinal plants.
Nepal was the first country in South Asia to ratify the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169, which deals with the rights of indigenous peoples. The UN has taken a number of strides to help recognize the unique needs of indigenous peoples. The United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007, and an Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was established within the Human Rights Council.
What You Can Do This Human Rights Day:
1) Celebrate the Life of Nelson Mandela:
This year, celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, whose successes symbolize the difference that ethical leadership and activism can make when ensuring basic human rights are granted to a people. Mandela fought hard against discrimination and was deeply devoted to equality, and the outcomes of his battle against oppression were some of the greatest human rights successes of our time.
2) Get Informed:
- This Human Rights Day, pick an indigenous group and learn about it! Strike up a conversation with friends and share what you know.
- Check out this list of stories about some of the most prevalent Human Rights issues that face societies around the world.
- Read about Rajani Maharjan’s work with the Newa People in Nepal here
- Read the UN Declaration of Human Rights here
3) Recognize what we need to do next and remember how far we have come :
- A list of Human Rights Achievements can be found on the Human Rights Day website
4) Start a Conversation
- Take what you’ve learned and share it with a friend, classmate, colleague, or family member
- Join the conversation with @UNrightswire on Twitter (#UNRightsAt20)
- Like UN Human Rights on Facebook
Happy Human Rights Day!
The statistics are daunting: there are over thirty four million people living with HIV world wide, thirty million of which that live in developing countries, and over one thousand children are infected with HIV per day, with even more adult infections on the rise.
Today we commemorate World AIDS Day to raise HIV awareness and tackle the prejudice that it is associated with HIV/AIDS. This year’s theme of Universal Access and human rights ties into that of the Sixteen Days of Activism and the International Human Rights Day. Recognizing the human rights aspect is a fundamental part of the process of changing the perception of HIV/AIDS and increasing the accessibility of treatment for people that are infected. As Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said in June, “Universal access means more than ensuring that those who need treatment or prevention services receive them. It implies an extra effort to reach those who are marginalized, criminalized, or disenfranchised.”
World AIDS Day is one of the most recognized international health days and remembers those that have passed from the disease, in addition to celebrating the tremendous strides that have been made in HIV/AIDS research.
The Zakim Bridge here in Boston will be one of several landmarks in the world that will be lit red this evening to recognize the global health community’s commitment to honor World AIDS Day. There are over fifteen community events this year in Boston which have been compiled by the AIDS Action Committee that range from health screenings to films.
There is also a rally being held at the Boston Common at the Parkman Bandstand from 7-9 pm tonight, hosted by the Jubilee Project. The rally will include speeches, a concert, and a candlelight vigil to remember the lives lost to the AIDS epidemic.
For those of you not in Boston, you can find out an event near you at http://www.takeanumber.org.
If you are unable to attend any of the events, you can change your Facebook profile picture to the one provided on the AIDS Action Committee fan page at www.facebook.com/AIDSActionCommittee.
Do what you can today, and every day, to help achieve Millennium Development Goal #6’s aim to eradicate HIV/AIDs!
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign is an international campaign that originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Rutgers Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) in 1991. The 16 Days extends from November 25th- International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women– and December 10th- International Human Rights Day. The Campaign links the two days together by connecting violence against women and human rights to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. The 16 Days Campaign calls for the elimination of violence against women by:
• Raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at local, national, and international levels
• Strengthen and promote local work around violence against women in our immediate communities
• Demonstrate the solidarity of women throughout the international community by organizing against violence against women
• Creating strategies to pressure governments to implement their pledges to eliminate violence against women.
The theme this year is “Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women.” The CWGL defines militarism as an ideology that creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests.
The goal of reducing militarism introduces genuine security to communities around the world that have experience grave human rights violations against both women and men.
Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in his remarks on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women that it’s time for everyone to unite together on this issue, especially the corporate/business world, who haven’t been as engaged in the past:
“Today is a call to action – action to eliminate Violence against Women. There has been real progress. Across the world, people are mobilizing to stop the abuse of women and girls. This is no longer just the concern of women’s organizations. More and more people realize that gender-based violence is everybody’s problem and that everybody is responsible for stopping it. This year’s observance highlights how business leaders can contribute.”
Read his full remarks here.
Whether you are a member of the business community, a student, a young professional, or retired, here are several ways you can get involved in the campaign and learn more:
- Follow 16 Days Campaign activities on Twitter through the real time search #16 Days
- Download the CWGL Take Action Toolkit and hold your own awareness event. You can find additional events in your area here.
- Follow on the CWGL Facebook Page
- Check out UNiTE to End Violence against Women and the 16 Ways UNFPA Works to End Gender Violence
- Donate to the UN Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women which is the only multilateral grant-making mechanism exclusively devoted to supporting local and national efforts to end violence against women and girls, by texting UNITE to 27722 from US cell phones to give $10
This Thanksgiving we were able to reflect the things we are thankful for. Let’s do all we can to add the elimination of gender violence to that list!