December 10 marked the 60th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the member countries of the United Nations. This document has tremendous bearing on the lives of every man, woman and child on this planet. It lays out a comprehensive series of economic, social, cultural and political freedoms that should be the birthright of every human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) well surpasses the U.S. Bill of Rights in guaranteeing social and economic freedoms. The UDHR was drafted by the UN Committee on Human Rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. It was adopted as Resolution 217 A (III) by the United Nations in 1948. The spark that gave birth to the bright flame of international human rights law passed unanimously. Although the
In contrast, let us consider the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is generally thought of as the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It basically consists of civil rights that limit the power of the judicial system and that of the federal government to abuse person or property. Two easily identifiable rights from the Bill are freedom of speech and the right to bear arms; another right says that no one can be forced to put up a soldier in their home; five (half) of the amendments deal with legal matters such as right to a speedy trial, protection from unlawful search and seizure, right to an attorney, no excessive bail, no double jeopardy, etc. The final two amendments simply state that no rights found in the Constitution can be construed as infringing on any other rights and that anything not covered in the U.S. Constitution is left to the individual states. These are fine rights to have, but they do not go nearly far enough.
The UDHR on the other hand, is much more inclusive. It covers ALL human rights as mentioned above, not just civil rights. It seeks to guarantee "the inherent dignity" and "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family". It further states that the people of the United Nations are "determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom". Unlike the Bill of Rights, the UDHR declares that every person is entitled to social security, employment, education, the right to form or join a union, holidays with pay, the right "to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits", and an overall social safety net that will ensure "an existence worthy of human dignity". My favorite part of the UDHR and that which I feel encapsulates the spirit of the declaration is Article 25, which I quote in full:
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
I heartily endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I suggest everyone read it and become intimately familiar with its principles. It can be found on the United Nations website (www.un.org). It’s not a long read; longer than the Bill of Rights, but there’s a lot more in it as I have said. I also call upon every citizen to invoke the UDHR in communication with their elected representatives and demand these principles in support of human dignity be adhered to with all strictness. It is incumbent upon us, the people, to put pressure on our representatives and our government – municipal, state and federal – to do the right thing. There has been much excitement among the Left over the Obama and Democratic electoral success, but this is just a small victory and only the beginning of a long, protracted struggle. We know from history that the Democrats, for all their rhetoric, will not take us to where we want to be. They must be compelled. As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will". We must demand our human rights. Through our popular movements we can make the change we require. Now, get out there and do something, anything. Join a group working toward progressive goals. Look to the back page of this newspaper for a list of organizations to get involved with; or start your own organization, collective, club, whatever. Just get off your ass and do something. We need you, the country needs you, and the world needs you.