(Photo credit: University of Essex – Flickr: The articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as inscribed in chalk on a staircase at the University of Essex, U.K.)
The Human Rights Dilemma and a New Political Initiative
Welcome to our website! Our organization, “RECLAIM! Universal Human Rights Initiative”, aims to revive the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the UDHR, for short), the crucial document of the human rights movement. We want to reclaim it from the state of neglect, hypocrisy and ignorance in which it largely exists today and make it a living force for good. We believe that we have a strategy for doing so.
Background. Talk of “human rights”, especially that of “universal human rights”, tends to trigger either of two very different reactions. On the one hand, the concept is widely regarded as a central element of international law created after the Second World War and a powerful force for protecting humanity. On the other hand, many criticize it as an elitist notion of Western liberals, primarily serving to enhance their own self-image and with little actual relevance to the lives of everyday people, in particular, ordinary workers, the poor, and many ethnic minorities. Our organization unashamedly takes the first view: we argue that human rights is an idea of universal value for all humanity but one whose potential has yet to be achieved. Our campaign is intended to realize that potential.
The UDHR was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10th December, 1948. Prefaced by a small discussion of basic values and perspectives, it consists of 30 “articles”, each describing a basic human right. These central rights range from freedom of speech and religion to that of making a decent living and having adequate housing. While the UDHR is officially supported by every member state of the United Nations, it is, unfortunately, faithfully observed by very few and is openly violated by many. Furthermore, it is relatively little known beyond legal circles and only rarely invoked in situations involving human rights violations, either by the victims or political activists trying to help them. A world committed to widely applying the 30 articles of the UDHR would be a vastly more humane one than exists today.
The Initiative. Our campaign aims to generate public and political pressure on governments throughout the world to take the UDHR seriously and to start abiding by it. The specific goal is to get them either to officially reaffirm it (for countries that already are official signatories) or to finally affirm it explicitly (for those that have not yet done so). Countries that reaffirm or newly affirm the UDHR can be more effectively held to account for any policies and practices that violate human rights. Countries that decline to recommit to it can be pressured to explain why they will not commit to doing so and their human rights record subjected to further public scrutiny. .
We are confident that, in addition to its overt political goals, the campaign has the potential to be a powerful vehicle for educating people all over the world about human rights and the UDHR. The initiative can be adapted to the dynamics and conditions of each country, emphasizing those specific issues and human rights violations that are especially important to that country while connecting these to the issue of universal human rights more broadly. Campaigns that emphasize economic and social rights might be particularly effective in winning over new constituencies. The greater the number of countries that reaffirm the UDHR, the greater the potential influence over countries that have not done so, motivating them to join the movement as well. A critical forthcoming anniversary of the UDHR is its 75th, which will take place on 10th December, 2023. This anniversary will be the focus of our efforts in behalf of its reaffirmation.
Why start this campaign now? The reason is quite simple: human rights and the international consensus on their worth are in retreat, as noted and documented by international institutions and non-governmental organizations. If some of the remarkable advances for humanity in international law of the past 70 years are not to be lost, they must be fought for and protected anew. Our initiative can be an important element in that struggle.
How can I help? You can start by reading the Declaration, sharing it with others, and contacting relevant political and social organizations in your country and urging them to petition your government to commit to the spirit and goals of the UDHR. You can also support a project that is complementary to our campaign: a collaboration with other organizations to put together and publish a multi-author book. It will consist of articles on the status of the UDHR and human rights today, and will be licensed as a Creative Commons by the Berlin Forum on Global Politics (Germany), the Institute for Global Dialogue (South Africa), and our organization, so that it is readily and freely accessible to readers over the Internet. You can read more about the publication here. Other actions that are part of our campaign strategy will be shared with you soon.
For more details on our organization and our campaign, explore our website and read about how a talk led to our initiative, our proposed draft reaffirmation statement, who are the members of our advisory board, and how to contact us with your questions and to express your support.