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International Human Rights Day Marks Global Struggle for Dignity

Human rights
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt approving the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was drawn up in 1948. Credit: FDR Library/ CC BY 2.0

The tenth of December every year marks International Human Rights Day, a day set apart to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.

The UDHR “proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being”- irrespective of their gender, language, religion, race, color, national or social origin, political or other opinions among other statuses, according to the United Nations.

Today, although the UDHR is the most translated document across the globe and it continues to be the foundation of all international human rights legislation, pressing issues — including the mass incarceration of millions of Uyghurs in western China — remain to be resolved.

Human rights still violated during 2021 as a result of politics, pandemic

Former South African president Nelson Mandela stated “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity,” while the American minister and activist Martin Luther King Jr.,  held that “A right delayed is a right denied.”

However, in 2021 the world is still facing almost-unthinkable human rights violations, with several western countries staging a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics in February of 2022 over the inhumane conditions that those who escaped the Uyghur camps say are the rule there.

Alleging mass torture, rape and enforced working which amounts to slave labor, the escapees say that the violation of human rights in western China is almost without equal in the world.

A statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued on Friday marking the commemoration of the day does not mention these alleged atrocities directly but touches on several human rights areas that are of concern in the world today.

She notes that “The past two years have demonstrated, all too painfully, the intolerable cost of soaring inequalities.

“Inequalities that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly 73 years ago on December 10, 1948, sought to eradicate in its effort to pave a path to a better world.

“The decades since then saw some very significant progress – gradual, uneven progress, with frequent setbacks, but definite progress nonetheless,” Bachelet admits.

“Succession of global shocks” have imperiled human rights

“However, over the past twenty years, since 2001, a succession of global shocks have undermined that progress. And the onset of this devastating pandemic in 2020 has laid bare many of our failures to consolidate the advances we had made.

“Inequalities have fuelled the pandemic, and continue to do so. In turn, the pandemic has fed a frightening rise in inequalities, leading to disproportionate transmission and death rates in the most marginalized communities,” the Commissioner stated.

“Women, low-income and informal workers, younger and older people, and those with disabilities, as well as members of ethnic, racial and religious minorities and indigenous peoples are among those hit hardest.

“This is a critical period in world affairs,” Bachelet noted in her statement.

“The Common Agenda set out by the UN Secretary-General in September 2021 calls for renewed solidarity between peoples and future generations; a new social contract anchored in human rights; better management of critical issues,” Bachelet pointed out, adding “Equality is about empathy and solidarity and about understanding that, as a common humanity, our only way forward is to work together for the common good.”

Earlier this year, Uyghurs who had escaped the camps testified at a hearing held in London about what had happened to them at the hands of Chinese authorities. The content of their testimony is very disturbing.

Barrister Luke de Pulford states that the “People’s Tribunal,” headed by a prominent British barrister, found that China had indeed committed crimes against humanity that amount to an act of genocide against the Uyghur people. This tribunal, he said, “has performed the most comprehensive, most systematic interrogation of the evidence around the Uyghur crisis that exists, more than any government has.”

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