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Foto: Gibrán Aquino de wikimedia

75 years since the UN Declaration of Human Rights

07 December, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

Seventy-five years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Ricardo Changala reflects on the current reality. He highlights recent events such as the crisis in Palestine, the release of a former Peruvian president convicted of human rights violations, and the presidency in Argentina held by someone who opposes human rights. Changala emphasizes the importance of placing people and their rights at the center of policies. He recognizes that protecting and promoting human rights remains fundamental, though reconfiguration is required to adapt to current challenges.

This is not a drill

Roger Waters

December 10, 2023, marks the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The historic document was adopted by pointing out that:

“…disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom.”

It also stated:

“… recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Unfortunately, the current global context shows us that we are far, far from achieving those aspirations.

Let’s examine a few recent facts.

For the first time, we are witnessing a massacre streamed online, with the international community unable to halt it.

On December 6, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the Security Council, invoking Article 99 of the United Nations Charter for the first time since he took office. He urged the Council to act in response to the threat to international security posed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The situation is rapidly descending into a catastrophe, potentially having irreversible implications for the Palestinians and for peace and security in the region.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) reported that as of December 5, at least 15,523 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza under Israeli shelling, with 70% being women and children. Many are missing, likely buried under the rubble of bombed-out buildings, awaiting rescue or recovery.

According to the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA), almost 1.9 million people, more than 85% of Gaza’s population, have been displaced across the Strip since October 7.

Guterres emphasized that there is no protection for civilians. Over half of the houses have been destroyed, forcing about 80% of the 2.2 million population into smaller and smaller areas. The remnants of Israeli bombings have rendered areas uninhabitable, creating overcrowded, undignified, and unhygienic conditions.

In his letter to the Security Council, the Secretary-General affirmed that the international community bears the responsibility to use all its influence to prevent further escalation and halt this crisis. He reiterated his call for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow the safe and timely delivery of essential aid throughout the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, in Peru, by the Constitutional Court’s decision on December 4, the immediate release of former President Alberto Fujimori, serving a sentence for severe human rights violations during his 1990–2000 term, was ordered.

In response to the victims’ plea, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, through an urgent resolution by its president, again urged the Peruvian State to refrain from executing the release order until it verifies compliance with access to justice guarantees for the victims of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres.

The situation is gravely serious, as it not only leaves many victims of fundamental human rights violations unprotected but also disregards the decisions of the main regional judicial body.

December 10th is International Human Rights Day.

Ironically, on the same day, in Argentina, Javier Milei will assume the presidency, who has openly declared opposition to human rights in all forms.

If the president-elect and his political group fulfill even a quarter of their promises, the country will regress in terms of human rights, adversely impacting the population, especially the least resourceful sectors, victims of the military dictatorship, women, indigenous peoples, and working people, among others.

Given this bleak outlook, it would be beneficial for States to consider, at the very least, what the final article of the 1948 Declaration states:

“Nothing contained in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group, or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”

Because we are speaking about real people, men, women, girls, and boys. It concerns the planet Earth, in the process of destruction, despite attempts to portray a different, or worse, painless virtual world through trivialization or complicit silence trying to conceal realities.

But no. As the great Roger Waters asserts in his crucial concert, this is not a drill. The victims are real, and so are the perpetrators.

To have any chance of improving the world we live in, the rights, needs, and dreams of every individual and collective inhabiting it must be at the core of any policy.

From this perspective, human rights are not nearing their end (as some have argued for years), but they continue to be central to the aspirations of collectives and individuals.

The present task is to reclaim their momentum by critiquing their ineffective realization and necessitating reconfiguration to overcome cultural, political, social, and legal limitations to make them relevant to current times.