Adopted by the United Nations
on December 10, 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights turns 60 today.
This year’s theme, "Dignity and justice for all of us," is all
the more appropriate this year as the world moves into global economic
slow-down. During the past decade poverty has come to be seen as a human
rights issue instead of pure economic problem. The poor are more likely
to have their rights denied, and to be victims of discrimination and
persecution. In many societies they do not have the right to education,
healthcare and housing simply because they cannot afford them. And the
cycle continues as they are marginalized and kept from participating
in public life. The human rights of women, meanwhile, are often violated as they
are discriminated against because of their gender, or denied reproductive
health services and sufficient maternal care.
All of these are denials
of human rights and human dignity. The good news is that world leaders
have committed to promoting dignity and justice for all by accepting
these human rights treaties and supporting
the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This global eight-point contract – agreed by 189 leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 – aims by 2015 to reduce poverty,
improve health and education, and protect the environment, through partnerships
between developed and developing countries. A recent report by
the United Nations Millennium Campaign
suggests how to effectively incorporate a human rights framework to
address the structural and underlying causes of poverty.
Since the 2000 Millennium summit,
there have been important successes in the 2000-08 period – among them
the reduction of deaths from HIV/AIDS by one million, the increase of
school-enrollment numbers by 40 million, and the access of some 1.6 billion
people to safe drinking-water. At the same time, debilitating poverty persists:
more than 1.4 billion people barely survive on $1.25 a day, 50 million
people die each day of preventable causes, and half the population of
the developing world lacks access to decent sanitation. Even before the
financial crisis hit, developed countries were cutting back on their
foreign-aid commitments, with few on target to meet the agreed figure
of 0.7% of gross national income.
This week millions of people
from around the world re-committing themselves to the goals of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights
and calling on governments and individuals everywhere to renew their
commitment to human rights. As the world’s poor struggle everyday
for the most basic of human rights, we remember that human rights and
the declaration will not be achieved until they protect the most vulnerable
people by improving health, living conditions and education too.