Human Rights Day: Much to Do, Much to Celebrate

Story by Jon Dillon, Casework and Outreach Associate, Washington, DC

Freedom from fear. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from want. These are the four freedoms highlighted by the United Nations for this year’s Human Rights Day, a day celebrating the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s celebration is especially significant as it kicks-off the international organization’s year-long campaign commemorating the 50 year anniversary of the signing of the two international covenants that further enumerate the rights outlined in the Declaration.

For the millions of refugees forced to flee their homes, these freedoms seem like distant dreams. How can we say the freedom from fear is universal when barrel bombs are dropping on civilians in Syria? How can we say the freedom from want is universal when limited humanitarian funding causes the needs of thousands of refugees to be unmet?

The human rights picture of today’s world is bleak. Yet, the Universal Declaration and the International Covenants aren't necessarily meant to be depressing reminders of how we are failing the world’s most vulnerable, but a set of values to continually strive for, and hold governments accountable to.

Globally, there is so much work to be done to ensure the inalienable rights of ourselves and our neighbors. From protecting refugees in Europe so that those fleeing out of fear can live in safety, to promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation, to advocating for migrants risking everything for the opportunity to support themselves and their families, there are daily reminders of the need to stand up for equality.

And globally, there is so much being done to strengthen the human rights of individuals and communities. As the connections between human rights and climate change become clearer, Greenpeace is promoting human rights by pushing for renewable energy for all. Human Rights Watch continues decades of work to promote human rights and call on governments to end abuses. And the International Organization for Migration continually supports the rights of migrants around the globe. These are just a few of the many, many organizations fighting for human rights.

While the American Red Cross is not a human rights advocacy organization, it does work to ensure the American public is able to enjoy the freedoms from fear and want. From responding to house fires and promoting disaster preparedness, to providing life-saving blood to hospitals across the United States, to helping families learn the fate and whereabouts of loved ones separated internationally by conflict, disaster, or migration, the Red Cross is there to alleviate human suffering.

And there’s plenty that each and every individual can do to promote human rights. Learn more about Human Rights Day and the rights provided by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Get involved in student groups or local organizations promoting human rights. And support international organizations and campaigns working to protect human rights.

As the need for respect for human rights continues, so does the need for people to rise and protect and promote these rights. Take the opportunity of Human Rights Day to get involved and do something.