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A beacon of hope: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70

By Patricia Jenkings - posted Wednesday, 12 December 2018

We recently celebrated 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the Declaration and, particularly in these troubles times, be reminded of the need to raise awareness about this milestone document, a beacon of hope.

The Declaration sets out the basic rights and freedoms that apply for all humanity and supports equality, justice and human dignity. It has become a foundation document that has inspired many legally binding international human rights laws and has been translated into over 500 languages. The Declaration does not impose a single model of right conduct but rather, provides, "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations..."

This milestone document was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 12 December 1948. Article 1 affirms: "All human being are born free and equal in dignity and right."


Other articles include freedom from discrimination; right to life, liberty and personal security; freedom from slavery, torture and degrading treatment; right to recognition before the law; right to equality before the Law; right to remedy by competent Tribunal; freedom from Arbitrary arrest and exile; right to fair public hearing; right to be considered innocent until proven guilty; freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, family home or correspondence; freedom of movement; right to seek a safe place to live; right to a Nationality and freedom to change it; right to marriage and family; right to own property and not arbitrarily deprived of it; freedom of belief and religion; freedom of opinion and information; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; right to participate in Government and free election; right to social security; Workers' rights; rights to rest and leisure; rights to adequate stand of living; right to education; right to participate in the cultural life of community; right to social and international order that articulates the Declaration; community duties essential to free and full development.

The final Article (30) stipulates that no one has any right to take away the rights and freedoms as set out in the Declaration.

There is, however, concern that the text has been widely praised yet so little read, understood or acted upon.

The Declaration empowers not just human rights advocates like myself, but all of us and we need to stand up for our rights and the rights of all peoples, both at home and abroad.

The rights of Indigenous Peoples and new arrivals remain a significant issue in Australia today. Australia is both home to the world's oldest continuing living culture and it is also a thriving multicultural society of peoples with ancestors from across the globe. Many new arrivals, like displaced persons who fled to Australia after suffering the horrors of the Second World War, arrive with hope in their hearts and the dream of a new and peaceful life for themselves and their families.

The values inherent in Australian society, its multicultural diversity and strong sense of justice means we, as a nation, as members of communities and, as individuals are well positioned to address the many human rights issues at home.


Unfortunately, the 70th celebration that espouses human rights and dignity has been sorely tested by unprecedented global unrest, the rise of the nationalistic forces and challenges to global unity.

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently expressed his concerns to the General Assembly. "Challenges are growing outward", he said, "while many people are turning inward. Today, world order is increasingly chaotic... Universal values are being eroded. Democratic principles are under siege and the rule of law is being undermined..."

We need therefore to be vigilant and forthright about the values of the Declaration and remind Governments and policy makers of our priorities. We must take seriously the need to learn about the Declaration, as it is a most significant influencer for positive change.

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About the Author

Patricia Jenkings is a former political advisor. She has a PhD from the University of Sydney in social policy studies and education.

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