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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights amidst Rice Paddy Fields

Few would expect to come across the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in the middle of rice paddy fields. But there it is:

The plaque inscribed with Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights amidst rice paddies, Nagano, Japan

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

A plaque with the inscription of the first article of the UDHR, in both English and Japanese, has been standing amidst the rice paddies of Nagano prefecture for more than 15 years.

Mari Kawano was moved to bring it to the attention of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Lousie Arbour.

“I am a Japanese homemaker who has never even dreamed of writing a letter to such a high ranking official as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. But when I read your article in the newspaper late last year, I knew I had to write,” Mari Kawano was referring to an article by the High Commissioner on a year-long commemoration of the 60 th anniversary of the Declaration published in a Japanese newspaper in December 2007.

In her letter to the High Commissioner, Mari Kawano told the story of the UDHR plaque in Nagano prefecture. The plaque was erected some 15 years ago when a museum, Joukyou Gimin Memorial Museum, was built to commemorate a farmers’ uprising back in 1686, considered by the locals as a struggle for the right to life and a forerunner of the human rights movement.

Kawano learned from the High Commissioner’s article that 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, and was inspired to share the plaque story as the principles and ideals enshrined in the Declaration indeed belong to everyone across the globe.

A memorial museum in Nagano prefecture which first erected the UDHR plaque more than 15 years agoIn her article, the High Commissioner said that the 60th anniversary was not only an occasion to promote “the Declaration’s ideals and principles of justice and equality for all of us which changed the landscape of international relations and gave substance to the aspirations to freedom and dignity of humankind.” She said it was also a reminder that “the goal of making the Declaration a living reality for everyone has yet to be realized.”

“I hope that today is really the beginning of a year that will…have a lot of echoes where the human rights agenda of the United Nations will be very broadly discussed, endorsed, and, more importantly, implemented,” the High Commissioner said on the launch of the UDHR 60th campaign on 10 December 2007.

The United Nations, on Human Rights Day 2007, launched a year-long commemoration that leads on 10 December 2008 to the 60th anniversary of the UDHR. Under the overarching message: Dignity and Justice for All of Us, the commemoration reinforces the vision of the UDHR as a commitment to dignity and justice that applies to everyone. Non-discrimination, equality, fairness and universality are core to the values enshrined in the Declaration, which was drafted and adopted by representatives of all regions and legal traditions.

March 2008