Human Rights Day: a history

By Yousif Farah

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As many countries mark a century since the start of World War I, we are all too aware that conflict comes at a cost. Not only in terms of the grave loss of human lives and the prolonged agony and suffering inflicted indiscriminately upon entire nations, but also the level of depravity shown by distorted human nature and the atrocities and cruelties committed against innocent people was on a different scale.

They were shocking enough to urge a world leaders meeting in Washington DC and a follow-up summit in San Francisco. The UN Charter included seven references to human rights and the significance of reserving these rights. This evolved into what we know today as the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). The declaration was conceived on 10 December 1948, and from 1950, Human Rights Day was marked to commemorate this milestone.

UDHR played a persuasive role by inspiring more than 60 human rights instruments, constituting an international standard of human rights. The declaration is also accredited for the modern approach of codifying human rights ideas down into laws, including the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is mirrored in the UK through the Human Rights Act, which came into force on 2 October 2002. With all the infringements of human rights and the violations of liberties taking place around us, it has become increasingly important to recognise that day and the events which led to it, as from history one draws lessons for the present and the future.

The day is normally marked both by high-level political conferences and meetings and by cultural events and exhibitions dealing with human rights issues. In addition, it is traditionally on 10 December that the five-yearly United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prize are awarded.

Locally, at Poached Creative we have worked with charities and social enterprises assisting victims of social injustice. One of our first projects over five years ago involved work on a website for a healing community in north London – Room to Heal – for refugees who had suffered trauma through conflict and torture.

In an ideal world, we would have no need for Human Rights Day, but through exposing the atrocities and righting human wrongs, we slowly build a path for peace and understanding and recognising human rights will become part of our moral identity.

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