The establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on this day in 1948 was a groundbreaking moment for global consensus on the shared rights of all human beings.
This has since expanded into many treaties, conventions and declarations supporting the centrality and substance of human rights at the global level. The creation of UN human rights law brought forward a period of great optimism. During the drafting of the declaration, Lebanese politician Charles Habib Malik proclaimed it to be a “potent ideological weapon” that “if wielded in complete goodwill, sincerity and truth, can prove most significant in the history of the spirit”.
But 72 years later, we face an era famously termed the ‘endtime of human rights’ (subscription required). International human rights agreements are often violated without consequence, with their impact on directly improving state’s human rights records modest at best.
And Covid-19 has presented new, unexpected and unprecedented challenges to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as exacerbating suffering and violence from ongoing conflicts.
As we reflect on another International Human Rights Day, we have an opportunity to consider more complex aspects of the human rights picture – without losing sight of the need to protect established rights.
Our future focus should expand to building up a rights-based agenda that doesn’t only deal with high-level aspirational commitments. It must also engage honestly and more directly around the sticky, more complicated dimensions of human rights that affect us all.
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This publication first appeared on the ODI site.
Author: Rachel George, Research Fellow within the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion team, ODI.
The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.