International Human Rights Day

Human rights are basic rights that belong to all of us simply because we are human. They embody key values in our society and are an important means of protection for us all, especially those who may face abuse, neglect and isolation. Most importantly, these rights give us power and enable us to speak up and challenge the poor treatment from a public authority.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights or UDHR is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, it set out, for the first time, the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It inspires us to continue working to ensure that all people can gain freedom, equality and dignity. The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 during its 183rd plenary meeting. The UDHR holds the world record as the most translated document except for the Bible.

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be celebrated on 10 December 2023. During the 75th anniversary celebrations, the aim is to educate and increase global knowledge and awareness of the UDHR and its enduring relevance for our times and the future; promote attitude change by countering the increasing scepticism of, and rollbacks against human rights by establishing that human rights are never relative and must always be upheld as what unites all of humanity. It also empowers and mobilises by offering concrete knowledge and tools to help people better fight for their rights.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December and commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The date was chosen to honour the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or UDHR, the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations. The formal establishment of Human Rights Day occurred on 4 December 1950. It is also on this day that the five-yearly United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded. When adopted, the declaration was proclaimed as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, towards which individuals and societies should strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.

In the decades since the ratification of the UDHR, human rights have, in real terms, become more recognised and more guaranteed across the globe. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out a broad range of fundamental rights and freedoms to which all of us are entitled. It guarantees the rights of every individual everywhere, without distinction based on nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.

Although the Declaration its broad range of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights is not a binding document, it inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights. Today the general consent of all United Nations Member States on the basic Human Rights laid down in the Declaration makes it even stronger and emphasises the relevance of Human Rights in daily lives.

In South Africa, Human Rights Day is celebrated on 21 March, in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre which took place on 21 March 1960. This massacre occurred as a result of protests against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It is celebrated on 11 December in Kiribati.

Each year, Human Rights Day has a different theme. In 2021, the focus was on young people and how one is never too young to make a difference in the world. In 2022, Human Rights Day is focusing on how rights are the beginning of peace within societies, and a way to create a fairer society for future generations.

If you want to commemorate Human Rights Day, you can speak up for what you care about, volunteer or donate to an organisation or cause that you believe in, make sure you choose fair trade or ethically made products and gifts and listen to those who have stories to tell which you must share with others.

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