Human Rights Day, observed each year on December 10, commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.
This year's Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign called “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” The campaign recognizes the 50th anniversary of two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Dec. 16, 1966.
The two Covenants, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are viewed as the International Bill of Human Rights.
“As Christians, when we talk about ‘human rights’, we are talking about truly seeing each other,” says Shannon Beck, violence and reconciliation network catalyst for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission. “And when we witness the beauty and dignity of all God’s children, in their particular economic, social, political, spiritual and geographic situation, we cannot help but cry out for justice and peace. Presbyterians want to see the world and our sisters and brothers. There is no more profoundly Christian impulse than this. Thank God we have these declarations to help guide us in our common work.”
The United Nations says many people are still unaware of the existence of the International Bill of Human Rights. Although half a century has passed since the adoption of these documents, it says many countries have much to do to build political institutions, judicial systems and economies that allow ordinary people to live with dignity. It cites the growth of hate speech against religious and racial minorities, the justification of rights violations in the name of combatting terrorism, the clawing back of economic and social rights in the name of economic crises or security, and the failure to respect the right to privacy in the digital age, in respect to the relevance of the two Covenants and the need to respect them.
“For followers of Jesus, human rights are rooted in the affirmation that all people are made in God’s image with worth and dignity; in the biblical message of justice, freedom, and peace; in Jesus’ call to love God ‘with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39); and in the belief that every person deserves to live the abundant life proclaimed by Jesus,” says the Rev. W. Mark Koenig, director for Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.
“The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations encourages Presbyterians to celebrate Human Rights Day and provides a variety of resources for their use,” he continues. “Over the coming year, the ministry will share information about the ‘Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.’ campaign as well as ideas for how Presbyterians may live into God’s vision of justice and peace and work for human rights in our communities, country, and around God’s world on Human Rights Day and every day.”
“The world has changed since the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Two Covenants in 1966,” says Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The Covenants, together with the other human rights treaties, have played an important role in securing better respect and recognition during the past five, at times turbulent, decades.”
“The freedoms set out in these documents are universal,” Al Hussein says. “They apply to everyone, everywhere. Traditional practices, cultural norms, cannot justify taking them away.”