Human Rights Day 2016: standing up for human rights

On Saturday 10 December 2016, the latest edition of Human Rights Day was observed by people and nations across the world. It is celebrated because on 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In an effort to celebrate the occasion and recognise the work still to be done to ensure human rights are respected by all, the current UN Secretary-General, stated that “upholding human rights is in the interest of all. Respect for human rights advances well-being for every individual, stability for every society, and harmony for all our interconnected world.”

In encouraging others to “stand up for someone’s rights today” – the theme of the 2016 Human Rights Day campaign – the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, believes “it’s time for each of us to step up for human rights. There is no action that is too small: wherever you are, you can make a difference. Together let’s take a stand for more humanity.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the Chair of the UN Human Rights Commission, was a driving force in creating the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Questioning where human rights come from and where they can be found she said that they are “in small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps 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.”

While the day is celebrated each year on 10 December and much has been done to improve human rights and raise awareness about them, it remains the case, that a lot still can be done to address, improve and recognise human rights across the world.

In order to track the progress of human rights across the world, the World Report 2016 produced by the group Human Rights Watch, summarises “key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.” Some of the major threats to human rights to human rights that it discusses including increased fears of terrorist attacks, the influx of refugees into Europe and how this led to rights being scaled back and how other countries have adopted “repressive new laws and policies targeting civil society” as a result of social media and political movements.

Yet, despite these negative developments, everyone has an important role to play and, no matter how big or small, can do their own little bit. The UN lists five such ways which include informing yourself and others why human rights matter, speaking out or up when the human rights of others are being attacked or at risk, standing with others to promote human rights, calling on leaders – at all levels of society – to uphold human rights and finally respecting and promoting them in everyday life. Around the world people everywhere are also recognising and respecting human rights in many other – many not formally recognised – ways.

Take a moment to reflect and consider what can you do between now and the next Human Rights Day on 10 December 2017?