What is Human Rights Day?

December 10 is International Human Rights Day. On this day in 1948, the newly formed United Nations (UN) voted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This list of rights was created by the Human Rights Commission, a subgroup of the UN led by Eleanor Roosevelt in response to the horrors of WWII. This UN vote marks the first time governments around the world acknowledged that every person is entitled to certain inalienable rights simply by virtue of being human.

The Universal Declaration included thirty articles (read an illustrated version) detailing the fundamental rights of every individual and was a formal expression of UN member countries’ views on human rights- but not a legally binding document. Governments could not be held accountable if they violated the rights listed in the Declaration. In order to remedy this, the Human Rights Commission was tasked with creating a body of international human rights laws that could be enforced, as well as a process by which enforcement could happen.

Over the next twenty years, the Commission worked to create two additional documents- covenants by which governments could be held accountable for violating an individual's human rights. These documents were called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The covenants were adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1966 and became international law in 1976. The United States ratified, or agreed to be legally bound by, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992. The United States has not agreed to be legally bound by the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Together, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, comprise the International Bill of Rights.

Today, the UN Human Rights Committee is tasked with tracking the human rights records of every country and ensuring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness Record as the most translated document in the world. In 2018, the UDHR celebrated its 70th birthday by creating a multilingual library of videos with people all over the world reading their #RightsOutLoud; you can also listen to audio recordings in more than 80 languages. Join the celebration this year and #StandUp4HumanRights in whatever way you can. 

 

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