Dec. 10 marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ethiopia UN Rights Probe

Steven Ratner, left, Expert, Kaari Betty Murungi, center, Chair of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, and Radhika Coomaraswamy, Expert, right, speak about the presentation of the first report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, in Sept. 2022. Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP, file

The document was crafted by representatives of nations worldwide, with a committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. It was ratified by almost all United Nations member countries, including the United States, at a General Assembly vote on Dec. 10, 1948. It contains a preamble and 30 succinct articles describing what every human being should have as a right.  It is perhaps the most comprehensive description of what basic human rights — political, social and economic — every person should have. The UDHR has been translated into more than 500 languages. It initiated a “human rights framework” regarding how people should be treated by their, and other, governments.Following the preamble, the UDHR’s Article 1 begins with: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

It then lists specific rights: to “life, liberty, and the security of person,” to “the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.” Other articles feature the right to marriage, the right to own property and the right to work. Sadly, this “human rights framework” has not generally been practiced by governments. The current tragedies in Gaza highlight this. Both Hamas and the Israeli government have repeatedly violated human rights in recent weeks, resulting in about 15,000 Palestinian and about 1,200 Israeli deaths.Both peoples have suffered a loss of human rights for decades and centuries. There has been the seizing of land and property and 75 years of oppressive treatment by the Israeli government against Palestinians and more than 2,000 years of discrimination against Jews, culminating in the Holocaust.Other well-known examples of human rights violations include South Africa under apartheid; ongoing discrimination against Uyghurs by the Chinese government; and the Rohingya in Burma/Myanmar; and oppression of some of their citizens by the governments of Nicaragua and Venezuela.

But denial of human rights can also be as simple as discrimination based on gender, LGBTQIA status, skin color, disability, poverty, or a biased criminal justice system — forms of discrimination that take place every day in every country. Whatever the political perspectives of the government in power, it’s the denial of rights to its citizens that violates the UDHR and needs to be addressed.Human rights offer us a benchmark against which we can gauge how well a government meets the needs of its residents, and how free and secure its people are. Nations, including the United States, usually base their policies on the use of force, or what’s in a country’s best interests, or according to the demands of political and military alliances like NATO. We need to start putting greater emphasis on human rights in our foreign and domestic policies. The more a country can ensure the human rights of its residents, the more stable and democratic its government is likely to be. If nations practiced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world would be a fairer, just and freer place for all. We’re not there yet, but the UDHR offers us a guide on what human rights mean and how they can be achieved.

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