Today, 10 December, is International Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. If ever there was proof that from profound darkness and tragedy, good things can emerge, then the Universal Declaration of Human Rights might be it. The Declaration, born amid the ashes of the Second World War, is one of the great achievements of the United Nations. Its 30 articles follow on from Franklin D Roosevelt’s ‘Four Freedoms’ – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, freedom from want – that he articulated in 1941.
The Declaration enshrines the concepts of dignity, equality, respect, justice, freedom for all individuals, and covers individual rights such as the right to life, movement, security, expression, a decent standard of living, political opinion, and equality before the law – irrespective of one’s gender, religion, colour, language, nationality, race or social status.
The first 12 words of Article 1 of the Declaration are possibly the most famous words in the history of human rights, and remain as true today as they ever were. ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ It is a sentence both poetically beautiful and individually liberating. Now, with the Declaration about to turn 70, the Declaration’s central mantra and 30 articles should be repeated and reinforced – not just on 10 December, but 365 days a year.
In Ukraine, human rights suffered under the Yanukovych regime. Indeed, the Maidan Revolution, a mass expression of outrage over political corruption, was essentially a cry for respect of human rights. Any society that wishes to describe itself as democratic must embrace and protect human rights. Furthermore, the systemic democratic reform that Ukraine needs urgently is simply not possible without a human-rights component underpinning all facets of government and society. If this goes unfulfilled, I am sure that at some point the Ukrainian people will rise up against injustice and corruption once again.
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