Universal Declaration of Human Rights - In six cross-cutting themes

Dignity and justice for each and every human being is the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The concept of dignity lies at the heart of human rights. It is mentioned in the first sentence of the Preamble to the Declaration and appears again in Article 1. Yet of all the rights to which everyone is entitled, dignity is perhaps the most difficult to express and to put into a tangible form. Put simply, it means we must treat each other with respect, tolerance and understanding. Governments must do the same, in law as well as in practice, for the individuals who make up communities, societies and nations. The idea of justice and the equality of everyone before the law, appears throughout the Declaration. In fact the Declaration's core values of non-discrimination and equality are ultimately a commitment to universal justice and recognition of inherent human dignity.

Poverty is a key factor that undercuts the realisation of the full potential of the human being and societies. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a vision of the world in which everyone -- regardless of who they are and where they live -- has equal opportunity to grow and develop in freedom and equality and to the fullness of their potential. It also makes clear our responsibility to help other people and nations, through individual and joint actions, and to create a social and international order that enables the enjoyment of all human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social. So, in 2000 world leaders committed themselves to making 'the right to development a reality' and achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 in order to bring a better life to the poverty-affected people of the world. This global agreement acknowledges that individuals and societies can only develop fully through concerted national and international efforts.

The environment is never specifically mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet if you deliberately dump toxic waste in someone's community or disproportionately exploit their natural resources without adequate consultation and compensation, clearly you are abusing their rights. Over the past 60 years, as our recognition of environmental degradation has grown so has our understanding that changes in the environment can have a significant impact on our ability to enjoy our human rights. In no other area is it so clear that the actions of nations, communities, businesses and individuals can so dramatically affect the rights of others - because damaging the environment can damage the rights of people, near and far, to a secure and healthy life.

The concept of human rights is bound closely to the belief that culture is precious and central to our identity. The way we are born, live and die is affected by the culture to which we belong, so to take away our cultural heritage is to deny us our identity. At the same time, we can all benefit from our experience of other cultures and we have something to offer them in return. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community” and by implication, this also means that no-one has the right to dominate, direct or eradicate that culture or impose theirs upon us.

At conception we all start life as equals, but at birth we are immediately treated differently based on whether we are a boy or a girl. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges that men and women are not the same but insists on their right to be equal before the law and treated without discrimination. Gender equality is not a ‘women's issue' but refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men, girls and boys, and should concern and fully engage men as well as women. However, after 60 years, it is clear that it is the human rights of women that we see most widely ignored around the world, from female infanticide, sexual slavery and rape as an act of war, to exclusion from education, health and the right to compete equally for jobs. The right to be free of discrimination on the grounds of sex is specifically embodied in Article 2 of the declaration, but even a cursory reading of all 30 Articles is enough to remind us that in much of the world, the Declaration has yet to fulfill its promise to women.

Wherever we live and in whatever sort of society, one of our basic rights is to be allowed to take a full part in the life of our community. Without participation we cannot experience and enjoy the wide range of rights and freedoms that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seeks to guarantee. Our participation should be active, free and meaningful. Our views to improve our lives and our community should be heard and answered. We can have a say in the decisions of our local community and in national affairs. Article 21 explicitly says everyone has the right to take part in elections and government. Crucially, participation also means that the voices of people who are often excluded should be heard and heeded, especially when we are marginalised or discriminated against because of our disability, race, religion, gender, descent, age or on other grounds. We should be in a position to influence our own destiny and take part in decisions affecting us.

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