Support human rights by working to help others

Published 11:38 pm Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rev. Sally Beth Shore

December 10 marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Drafting had begun in 1946, overseen by a committee of 18 global leaders, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. They hoped  this step of articulating and committing to fundamental freedoms would prevent future atrocities such as those experienced in World War II, and creating the Declaration was one of the newly-formed United Nations first orders of business.

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It wasn’t an easy process, and the drafters knew it wasn’t a perfect document. Still they felt that they had explained  what was meant by the meaning of the rights of the human person alluded to in the Charter of the United Nations.

Since then, worldwide, Dec. 10 has been observed as International Human Rights Day. The Guinness World book says this document has been translated into more languages than any other in the world, with a close second being the Bible.

And yet, even with those noble sentiments, it is obvious to even a child that these rights are not accorded universal respect and in many cases are ignored.

The cynical among us, barraged with the weekly and sometimes daily reports of human rights abuses, may scoff and say, what good such a document, and how ridiculous to celebrate a holiday to commemorate its existence.

After all, in 2012 there were 27 million people living in slavery, 15 million refugees, more than one billion of the world’s people living in poverty, and in the U.S.A., the world’s wealthiest country, 2.8 million children in extreme poverty.

Today, every country in the world has ratified at least one of the four major human rights treaties that have been derived from the Declaration.

Moreover, government that has come into being since its historic adoption had modeled its own constitution on it.

Nelson Mandela in his first State of the Union speech as South Africa’s president in 1994, said:

“As an affirmation of the government’s commitment to an entrenched human rights culture, we shall immediately take steps to inform the Secretary General of the United Nations that we will subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

For further help fostering belief in human rights, l look to exemplars; such as Mandela; despite horrific past oppression, personally and nationally by whites  in South Africa, he chose to honor the inherent worth of all people, affirming the UDHR preamble.

Or how about Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year old Pakistani student who was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out so that she and other girls could continue to go to school?

Unquelled by the attack on her person,  she continues her campaign, seeing all people as deserving of rights.

She writes, “I don’t want revenge on the Taliban; I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”

On Dec. 10, Yousafzai received the 2013 UN Peace Prize.

Having faith, we must work.


Doing work to help others constitutes human rights work; whatever helps one human being, truly, helps us all.

Many organizations need support, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and United Nations Children’s Fund.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do though, is believe.

Believe, and honor one another; for at the core of the UDHR is the idea that each human being has been given life by our Creator, and each of us is bound the fate of one another.

In this season of giving and of light, kindness, and hope, may we remember to honor the light in each human being.