Posted on December 10, 2015 · Posted in Human Rights Program News

On December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone of the human rights movement.  To commemorate the signing, December 10 is now celebrated globally as Human Rights Day.

Today is an especially important day for us here at  Roosevelt House, given Eleanor Roosevelt’s central role in the drafting — right here at Hunter College — and the eventual adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In her address to the UN General Assembly, Eleanor described the Universal Declaration as “the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”  She concluded her speech simply:  ”Let this third regular session of the General Assembly approve by an overwhelming majority the Declaration of Human Rights as a statement of conduct for all; and let us, as Members of the United Nations, conscious of our own short-comings and imperfections, join our effort in all faith to live up to this high standard.”

The Assembly voted the next day to adopt the declaration 48-0, with eight abstentions.

We have seen enormous human rights victories in the last six decades including the adoption of numerous binding treaties amplifying the principles of the Universal Declaration, the creation of UN special procedures, treaty monitoring bodies, universal periodic review, and of regional human rights bodies, to protect and promote human rights. Authoritarianism has been vanquished from most of Latin America, apartheid from South Africa and communism from Eastern Europe, colonialism rejected around the world, and governance improved in much of Africa and Asia.  The NGO-inspired International Criminal Court has quickly become established with a majority of the world’s states. Domestically, the US adopted iconic civil rights legislation in the 1960s and, the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws and more recently a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

But there  is still much to be done, both in the U.S. and globally, to realize Eleanor Roosevelt’s dream. The gap between the world’s richest and poorest is increasingFood insecurity is a growing problem, especially as stronger, climate change-fueled storms are hitting the world’s most vulnerable places. And global conflicts have displaced millions of citizens — 80% of whom are women and children.  The promising doctrine of Responsibility to Protect is challenged by the intractable conflict in Syria and the rising danger of a new genocide in the Central African Republic.

Today, 65 years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is more important than ever to remember Eleanor’s wise words and to continue her work to advance human rights on the local, national, and global level