Today marks 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, meeting in Paris. I have a special interest in the UD’s anniversaries as my grandfather Narciso Reyes, a diplomat serving a newly independent Philippines, was a delegate. Japan’s wartime occupation of the Philippines was brutal, so in common with many representatives he brought to Paris direct experience of the ‘disregard and contempt for human rights’ which the UD notes ‘resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind’.
For him, the UD ‘shone like a beacon of hope amidst the gloom’, even as the rights it proclaimed ‘seemed hopelessly out of reach’. There has, as I note in our feature, been significant if uneven progress in making the rights set out in the UD ‘justiciable’, providing mechanisms by which rights are more attainable for many. Its contents are the basis of customary international law, expressed in around 100 conventions and treaties.
But in 2018, is the world’s (admittedly chequered) record on further safeguarding human rights under threat? The UD is not going to lose signatories, but the voices warning of an ‘erosion’ of human rights are getting louder. Last week Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, warned that populist nationalism, with its focus on migrants, xenophobia and attendant ‘hate speech’, was ‘giving licence to other people not to respect people’s rights’.
Her intervention is timely. Repressive rulers have taken to dismissing the UD as reflecting only ‘western’ values. And even in the UK, significant elements in politics and the press casually and routinely deride ‘human rights’ and conflate them with ‘political correctness’. We should be worried.
Arguing for the declaration’s resilience is the text itself. Its eloquence on equal rights and discrimination is rightly evoked in contexts new and old. Gazette readers in particular will relate to its unambiguous insistence on equality before the law, the right to protection by the law, and the right to fair hearings in impartial tribunals. The UD still shines.
This is the last print edition of the Gazette in 2018. A merry Christmas to all our readers.