10 December this year marks the 74th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). While much progress has been achieved on human rights protection during these years, the very same promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of dignity and equality in rights are constantly under threat.
To remind us of the current relevance and legacy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ahead of the 75th Anniversary celebration next year, on 10 December 2022 – Human Rights Day – the United Nations (UN) will launch the year-long campaign “UDHR 75: Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All”. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, put it, the year-long campaign seeks to regain the centrality, universality, and indivisibility of human rights, and to shift the needle of understanding and action towards greater knowledge of the Declaration and universal human rights standards.
What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
On 10 December 1948, the Member States of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the UDHR, a cornerstone document centred on the fundamental belief that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. After the end of World War II, which devastated large parts of Europe and Asia, the international community vowed to never allow such atrocities and cruelty to ever happen again. To this end, the UN were established in 1945, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted just three years later, with the aim to protect and promote fundamental rights and freedoms. Through the Declaration, world leaders strongly reaffirmed their commitment to uphold “fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women” and confirmed their determination to “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
Member States representing all humanity in its different political, legal, religious, and cultural backgrounds participated in the drafting of the Declaration. As its names goes, the Declaration is universal: this means that it applies to all people, in all countries around the world, at all times. In its comprehensive coverage, the UDHR outlines 30 universal rights and freedoms that belong to all and cannot be taken away. These rights and freedoms encompass all aspects of our daily lives and those of our families: the right to education, the right to health, the protection and promotion of which has become evident during the COVID-19 pandemic; but also, the right to life, to liberty, to privacy, to seek and receive information, and to be free from any form of discrimination.
In the decades since its adoption, the Declaration has become a global road map for freedom and equality, and for protecting the rights of every individual, everywhere; it has been accepted by all UN– and thereby also EU Member States –as international customary law and become one the most translated documents in the world, including into Lao. This speaks to its universality and centrality still today.
The breadth of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights covered by the Declaration has served as the foundation for the associated legally binding international human rights treaties, among others the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which together are known as the International Bill of Human Rights.The Declaration has inspired the current international human rights system, by guiding the creation of clear benchmarks for universal human rights standards that all Governments are encouraged to translate into rights-based domestic legislation and policies, which are essential to achieve sustainable development for all.
To date, Lao PDR has ratified seven of the nine core international human rights treaties and has committed to take steps towards full ratification, including of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in the years to come. The 2015 Constitution of the Lao PDR enshrines the Declaration’s principles by recognizing the need for protection and promotion for many fundamental rights and freedoms. The UN and the EU, and other development partners, reinforce their commitment to support the Government of the Lao PDR and civil society to achieve full ratification and internalize human rights standards into domestic legislation, with a view to build an inclusive, and sustainable society grounded in the respect of rights.
How can the UDHR support the realization of sustainable development in the Lao PDR?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is inextricably tied to sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide the global community with a roadmap towards inclusive development that is strongly anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international human rights treaties, in that “it seeks to realize human rights for all”. The SDGs, much like human rights, are people-centred, universally applicable, and indivisible. The principles of equality and non-discrimination, which are enshrined in the UDHR, also lie at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and the promise by State leaders in 2015: to Leave No One Behind.
Human rights and the SDGs also mirror each other: the right to education is reflected in SDG 4; the right to health in SDG 3; the right to work in SDG 8; the right to justice in SDG 16, and so on. The right of all groups, including the most vulnerable, to be included and participate meaningfully in development and decision-making processes are key elements of both the sustainable development and human rights agendas.
The Lao PDR, like other countries around the world, is battling negative economic consequences of COVID-19. In addition, the severe impacts of the recent global food, energy, and financial crises are likely to exacerbated chronic challenges, lead to increased inequalities and to a potential retrogression in SDG achievements. The UN and the EU stand ready to support the Government and civil society to tackle these challenges together, through upholding the values and rights enshrined in the Declaration, and in the human rights instruments that the Lao PDR has ratified, employing a human rights-based approach to sustainable development, and promoting protection, inclusion, and participation of vulnerable groups to all dimensions of life.
The UN and the EU, along with other development partners, offer their continued support to the Government of the Lao PDR to enhance the protection of human rights, including through the implementation of recommendations received during the last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and now included in the National Action Plan for the Implementation of UPR recommendations, as well as recommendations received during recent and upcoming interaction with Human Rights Treaty Bodies, including: the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Right. Implementing such recommendations offer a concrete opportunity to put the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into practice.
Why is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights still relevant today, after 75 years?
Our countries and communities are facing new and ongoing challenges that jeopardise these rights, including pandemics, conflicts, increased inequalities, and discrimination, raising poverty, increasing migrations, and the threats posed by climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity.
Guided by the values and rights enshrined in the Declaration, Governments must employ a human rights-based approach to address these challenges, including the pandemic, racism, discrimination, violence, and climate change. The basket of rights covered by the Declaration, including civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights must serve as a guidepost for States’ collective actions that do not leave anyone behind and must serve as foundation for Building Back Better. During these uncertain times, Government, communities, businesses, individuals, and all stakeholders are called upon to uphold the core principles of universal, indivisible, and interdependent human rights, with a view to achieving freedom from want, freedom from fear, and a healthy environment for everyone, without discrimination.
The UDHR 75 campaign strives to increase global knowledge and awareness of the UDHR and its enduring relevance for our times and for the future. It aims to promote attitude and behavioural change, by establishing that human rights are never relative and must always be upheld as what unites humanity – across nations, across communities and among people. Finally, the campaign seeks to empower and mobilize support around human rights values and principles, offering concrete knowledge and tools to help people understand how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to the assurance of a peaceful and sustainable development for all and that leaves no one behind.
Source: Lao News Agency