The Right to Know our Rights and the Right to Have our Rights Respected:
71st Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
As we celebrate the 71st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on December 10th, let’s consider how awareness and implementation of our human rights can have a dramatic impact on world peace, justice and sustainability.
According to the UDHR Preamble, attainment of our rights depends upon the people of the world raising awareness of and enforcing human rights principles. The framers of the Declaration considered that recognition and observance of our rights will follow from 1) human rights education – a common understanding of our rights and 2) human rights law – embedding our rights in the rule of law locally, regionally and globally.
Human Rights Education
Upon the promulgation of the Declaration in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly called on the public “to cause it [the Declaration] to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions.” The Assembly further proclaimed that “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms…”
Furthermore, Article 26 of the Declaration not only affirms that “everyone has the right to education,” but also that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” According to the drafters of the Declaration, a portion of everyone’s education should be devoted to learning about our universal rights.
In 2011, the UN adopted an additional declaration, the Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training to acknowledge the “fundamental importance of human rights education and training in contributing to the promotion, protection and effective realization of all human rights.” This Declaration seeks:
- to promote education about the principles that form the basis of our rights,
- to advance mechanisms that protect our rights,
- to support respect for the rights of learners and educators, and
- to empower people to exercise their own rights and uphold the rights of others.
Human rights education has been and continues to be a significant objective in United Nations’ strategy for realizing human rights. Article 1 of the Education Declaration states,
- Everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms and should have access to human rights education and training.
- Human rights education and training is essential for the promotion of universal respect for and observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, in accordance with the principles of the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.
- The effective enjoyment of all human rights, in particular the right to education and access to information, enables access to human rights education and training.
The UN continues to highlight education in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. One of the seventeen goals focuses on education and specifically refers to human rights. Goal 4.7 states, “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”
Education matters: if we do not know our rights, we cannot claim them. If we cannot claim our rights, we cannot exercise them. If we cannot exercise our rights, we cannot achieve a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
Although education is key to achieving our rights, how effective has our global human rights education been? The majority of the world’s children, more than 90 percent, attend primary school; yet, few have been educated about human rights. Some students learn about the Declaration in high school social studies or history classes. But only 38% of the world’s population has any education past the age of 15. If children have not learned about the UDHR by the time they are in secondary school, then they may never learn about it. Therefore, global human rights education must start in primary schools.
Education fulfills the first half of the mission of securing “universal respect, effective recognition and observance” of our rights. Human Rights Law fulfills the second half.
Human Rights Law
To achieve universal observance of our rights, the UDHR urges us to incorporate and enforce human rights principles in our laws from local to global.
Human rights do in appear our laws, from the highest level laws to local civic codes. Jus cogens (peremptory norms of international law), the UN Charter (Articles 55 and 56), the UDHR, the two International Covenants, regional human rights conventions, and topical human rights treaties reaffirm our innate and unalienable rights. A majority of national constitutions mention some rights or freedoms of the people. And every constitution affirms that the authority of government derives from the will of the people.
Realization of our universal rights requires more than education and the law. Although many laws reaffirm human rights principles, we cannot reliably depend upon governments alone to uphold the law. We, the people, must stand up for our own rights and for the rights of others, who are disempowered and oppressed. And we must stand up for the rights of the earth that far too long have been ignored.
We need to assert our rights through judicial action (through the courts), through legislative action (through our parliaments and referenda), through political action (through the power of our vote and participation in government), through economic pressure and nonviolent action (through civil society and public protests), and through institutional progress (through global mechanisms such as a World Court of Human Rights, a World Environmental Court, and a World Parliament).
Our humanity and the earth already unite us. By recognizing our status as world citizens, we can begin to work together to achieve universal awareness and realization of our rights. On this 71st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let’s take action for the Universal Implementation of Human Rights.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.