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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 60

As the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says the historic document offers hope for the future and urges continuous efforts to make the Declaration a reality to all.

Drafting Committee engaged in a radio roundtable discussion on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947.” ©   UN Photo“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,” the first article of the UDHR declares.

“These words resonate today as widely and as movingly as they did in 1948. They speak with timeless and inalterable force of both the power of rights and of our kinship in rights,” says the High Commissioner on Human Rights Day 2008, when the Universal Declaration turns 60.

“The power of rights made it possible for an ever expanding number of people to claim freedom, equality, justice, and wellbeing,” she adds, saying that thanks to the UDHR, “for the first time all human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social – were recognized as belonging inherently to all people, rather than being gifts magnanimously bestowed upon them, or denied to them, by design, fate or the whims of ruling regimes.”

The High Commissioner stresses that the historic document is enduring and more relevant than ever.

“Today, the principles laid down in the Universal Declaration are echoed in the Constitutions and laws of more than 90 countries. Dedicated international, regional and national mechanisms, including my Office and the Human Rights Council with its independent experts, have been established to monitor, promote, protect and further develop human rights,” she says.

And yet, Pillay points out that there is no room for complacency. “For many people, the Universal Declaration remains an unfulfilled promise, as States’ political will to fulfil their obligations lags lamentably behind their pledge.

“Despite all our efforts over the past 60 years, this anniversary will pass many people by, and it is essential that we keep up the momentum, thereby enabling more and more people to stand up and claim their rights,” she says.

The High Commissioner points out that the enormous attention that the year-long commemoration of the 60th anniversary has brought to the issue of human rights is encouraging, and urges continuous efforts to make the Universal Declaration of a reality to all.

“We cannot stop here. We are still, 60 years on, a very long way from achieving the goals laid down in the Universal Declaration. No country in the world can sit back complacently and say ‘We’re there,” she says.

On 10 December, the High Commissioner participates in UDHR 60 commemorative events at United Nations Headquarters in New York, including an award ceremony of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights in the General Assembly. Field presences of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and its partners worldwide are also marking the anniversary in many different ways. The Human Rights Council will host a UDHR 60 commemorative session on 12 December.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Human Rights Day 2007 launched a year-long commemoration to mark the 60th anniversary of the UDHR in the run-up to 10 December 2008. UN agencies, departments and funds, and their international and local partners have been advocating specific areas of human rights that are most pertinent to their work under the overarching message: Dignity and Justice for All of Us.

As part of the UDHR 60 commemoration, OHCHR has embarked on a wide range of activities to increase public awareness of the Declaration. Among others, it designated 6 -12 October as the Dignity and Justice for Detainees Week to draw attention to the rights of people who are deprived of their liberty. Together with Art for the World, a non-governmental organization, it has commissioned a series of 22 short films created by some of the world’s leading directors, entitled Stories on Human Rights.

December 2008