On Saturday the 10th of December we commemorated Human Rights Day, when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
The Declaration came 3 years after the establishment of the United Nations. In the preamble to its Charter, the declaration stated: "We the people of the United Nations determined... to affirm faith in fundamental human rights..." setting out the basic premise that peace and security of mankind are dependent on mutual respect for the rights and freedom of all. That same year, in 1948, The Human Rights Commission's first task was to prepare an International Bill of Rights which set out what, at the time, they hoped human rights may mean to all people in years to come. The second task of the Human Rights Commission, of establishing a covenant that each nation would ratify and would become binding on the nations which adhere to it, was longer in preparation. It is this second task that we commemorated on Saturday 10th December: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.
The world changed in the wake of the introduction of The Declaration of Human Rights. Suddenly, women, people of colour and other minorities were protected under international law.
As the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt was the driving force in creating the Charter of Liberties. Eleanor voiced the struggles for human rights in her speech, delivered on the 28th September 1948 in Paris. To sum up the powerful message of what she was saying, Eleanor set out what are the basic human rights:
- Freedom of speech and free press
- Freedom of religion and worship
- Freedom of assembly and the right of petition
- The right to be secure in one’s own home and free from unreasonable search and seizure and from arbitrary arrest and punishment.
Eleanor Roosevelt also differentiated between the meaning of these freedoms in the then USSR (Communist) and the West. She reiterated that "among free men (and today I would include women) the ends cannot justify the means".
It helped combat modern slavery and trafficking by providing victims with the ability to appeal to International Law for protection. It also led society to gradually grow more open-minded and accepting; court became less biased and discrimination became less prominent. While today we still have many flaws in our treatment of each other and although discrimination, prejudice and modern slavery still takes place, the incredibly positive effect of The Declaration of Human Rights is undeniable.
Now, the upcoming four years with Donald Trump as President of the United States heralds a new era - and we can only imagine how his presidency will affect the mentality of Americans and people around the world. Having a man who consistently disregards and opposes things like marriage equality and freedom from discrimination as the President of the US and possibly, dare I say it, the leader of the Western world, will no doubt alter the mindset in which people approach situations of discrimination or bigotry.
Trump has set a precedent that people will now follow. Over the course of Barack Obama’s presidency you can see a progressive shift in society's acceptance and representation of minority groups. Films became gradually more dynamic with their portrayal of minorities, and more diverse talent behind the camera. I believe, similarly, that during Trump’s presidency there will be a veering away from this contemporary mindset and towards discriminatory practices.
The beauty of social media is that now everyone has a voice they can use to defend their own and other peoples' human rights. But along with the ability to defend rights, the Internet also gives people a platform to discriminate, manipulate and bully. We have become painfully aware of this during the recent US election campaign. Social media played a crucial role in the election of Donald Trump, but it has also played an important part in raising awareness for human rights. An example of this is the use of social media during the Arab Spring, or to report on human rights abuses in Syria.
Although human rights abuse continues across the globe, the Declaration of Human Rights has increased awareness of it, and rendered the perpetrators more accountable by granting protection under International Law to victims. In order to achieve some of Trump's' election promises, there is the potential for human rights to be impeded, especially when in relation to minorities such as Hispanics and other minority groups within the US. For human rights activists, the fight just got harder, and we will have to fight against the discrimination that Trump’s presidency may promote.
Original Illustrations by Sam Misan