In 1950, the United Nations General Assembly established Human Rights Day so as to honor the newly drafted Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its new global standard of dignity for all people, in all nations, all around the world. On this Human Rights Day, let us remember what we created but also why we had to create it, why the UDHR was written and why the world came together to forever enshrine the words “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
While we commemorate Human Rights Day and recall the terrible events that caused the world to come together to create it, we must also recognize that its solemn vows are broken every day. Human rights are the rights of girls in India not to be gang-raped, the rights of Syrians not to be attacked by snipers and SCUD missiles and the rights of people in Central African Republic not to be assaulted with machetes. They’re the rights of people in Chinese civil society to freely express themselves, Burmese political prisoners to voice their beliefs without threat of detention and the rights of all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, to be treated as equals. And as we take this day to remember the injustices we face in today’s world, we cannot forget about those fighting against them, fighting for the promises enshrined in the UDHR. People like Biram Dah Abeid, a son of freed-slaves trying to eradicate the menace of human bondage in Mauritania; Liisa Kauppinen, who is standing up for the rights of the deaf and disabled in communities all over the world; and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl we all now know well, who stood up to the Taliban and in doing so changed the world. These remarkable individuals were recognized today with the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Prize, but represent so many unheralded others who struggle to elevate human dignity every single day.
Today, sixty five years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we recommit ourselves to this vital cause.