Humanity hit a milestone today: the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s too bad that humans are spoiling the party.
The declaration’s anniversary, commemorated at the UN’s home in Geneva, occurs as the world staggers under heavy grief, crushed by grievances and greed.
The sweeping declaration was launched on December 10, 1948, with the famous lines, “Whereas 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…”
Humanity’s highest aspiration, declared the United Nations as it emerged from the shadows of the world wars, is that “human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want.”
Freedom from want? All credible sources warn that our material security is threatened by the Sixth Mass Extinction underway, record global heat, and extreme weather events. And yet we’ve put fossil barons in charge of COP28, the global climate change conference now underway in the petrostate Emirate of Dubai. Fossil profits threaten the survival — never mind “rights” — of our entire living planet.
As a child of past wars (aren’t we all), I know that ours is not the first nor (yet) the worst age of hardship. Any time or place could have benefitted from the United Nation’s cry for “equality, fundamental freedoms and justice.”
But the threats have never been more extreme. Our weapons are more lethal than ever. Our economy, health, and cultures, are globalized and vulnerable to shock. The environment that keeps us alive on this rock spinning in space is collapsing.
In the world’s democracies people of good will, in past times of fear, rose together to fight for the good. Today democracies are fragmented by bitter partisan rivalries, inequality, and the poison of disinformation spread by malevolent state and non-state interests.
The concept of “Rights” is more freighted and debatable than ever, while the concept of “freedom” has become weaponized.
Whose rights? What and whose freedoms?
Why only Rights–what of Responsibilities?
Why is so much Wrong?
We know that we humans are capable of good. We have proven, over and over throughout history, that we can and do effect change. One example, which I wrote about recently, is the shift in the status of Indigenous people in Canada.
But the idea that humans are basically good is being tested. And, 75 years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are failing.
The declaration, says the UN, “enshrines the rights of all human beings (as) a global blueprint for international, national, and local laws and policies and a bedrock of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
That is a very nice story.
Unfortunately, a Story only has power if people listen to it.