A Day of Revolt

Story by Cody Austin, Washington Region, International Services Coordinator

Human Rights Day commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948 following the horrors of WWII. Though your eyes may already have begun to glaze over, do not be deceived. It is not history. It is not diplomacy. It is a thundering cry of revolt!

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an audacious celebration of our inalienable inheritance, a daring declaration of human dignity and all that must accompany it. The anniversary of its adoption should not be an obscure listing among a litany of unknown holidays. Human Rights Day should not be a dry affair, left to stodgy diplomats in ill-fitting suits. 

The declaration is the most translated document in the world and the basis for multiple constitutions. It has ignited political, legal, and moral action across the globe. The pleas and yearnings for justice that all people experience are enunciated in plain language that anyone, even a politician, can understand. Freedom from fear, freedom from want! Freedom of speech and of belief.

To understand why Human Rights Day is a day of rebellion, one need only to read the latest headlines. The declaration’s third article:  “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  The declaration’s seventh article: “All are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection.”  We do not need to look very hard to see those struggling for even these basic rights.  In many places today, to voice the demands of this declaration are to invite detention, torture, and worse.  To shout, “No!” to oppressors and aggressors is nothing short of revolutionary. 

The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross are closely related to and in support of the rights protected in the Declaration. As a movement, the Red Cross also demands that the rights of soldiers, prisoners, and civilians are protected during times of war.  However, we are not a political organization. 

We exist to remind the world of their obligations to humanity and help them serve those affected by war and disaster.  Until the governments of the world fully implement these articles, we stand ready to reconnect families, provide assistance to the wounded, vaccinate children, and stop epidemics. All in the name of alleviating human suffering. 

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

One of the declaration’s key architects was Eleanor Roosevelt, known for her famous husband as well as her work promoting the rights of African Americans, refugees, and other people marginalized by society.  She knew that the Declaration was not binding and would be difficult to enforce.  She expected a battle from those who would oppose the protection of human dignity for all people.  Why did she, and many others, fight so hard to create what was at the time simply a moral statement?  Because they knew it was just the opening salvo. They knew the Declaration was the first protest, the composition of a chant that would be sung and shouted by millions to come, until every last enumerated right is respected.  Human Rights Day isn’t just a commemoration of a diplomatic achievement; it’s the anniversary of a rebellion. 

“Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places close to home.  Unless they have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” – Eleanor Roosevelt