Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All | Sunday Observer

Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All

4 December, 2022

The Universal Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10 — the day the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being - regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The 75th anniversary of the UDHR will be celebrated on December 10, 2023. Ahead of this milestone, starting on this year’s Human Rights Day on December 10, the United Nations (UN) will launch a year-long campaign to showcase the UDHR by focusing on its legacy, relevance and activism. The theme for the Human Rights Day this year is “Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All”. The UDHR holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated document, with the document available in more than 500 languages plus Braille and different Sign Languages. Yet, far too many people are still unaware of their basic rights as human beings.

Drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted and the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realised, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.


In the decades since the adoption of the UDHR in 1948, human rights have become more recognised and more guaranteed across the globe. It has since served as the foundation for an expanding system of human rights protection that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrants, legal and illegal.

However, the promise of the UDHR, of dignity and equality in rights, has been under a sustained assault in recent years. As the world faces challenges new and ongoing – pandemics, conflicts, exploding inequalities, morally bankrupt global financial systems, racism, right-wing Governments, extremist groups and Climate Change – the values, and rights enshrined in the UDHR provide guideposts for collective actions that do not leave anyone behind. The year-long campaign seeks to shift the needle of understanding and action towards greater knowledge of the universality of the UDHR and the activism associated with it.

As the UN puts it “the UDHR empowers us all - the principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. We need to stand up for our own rights and those of others. We can take action in our own daily lives, to uphold the rights that protect us all and thereby promote the kinship of all human beings”. Human rights are timeless and non-negotiable. A violation of human rights anywhere is a violation of human rights everywhere.

Family’s role

The concept of Human Rights must be inculcated in children from a very early age and should be introduced as a subject in the secondary years. Human rights should begin from the family itself – for example, parents must refrain from caning or physically punishing their children. Schools too must practise this concept by not resorting to corporal punishment, which we discussed in a previous article in this newspaper. There should be universal access to basic rights such as education, health, sanitation, transport and freedom of expression. Human rights cannot exist in a vacuum. All these factors must be ensured and protected for human rights to thrive in the true sense of the word.

Because human rights are universal in nature, there is a propensity among various countries to examine how other countries are faring on the HR front. In short, Human Rights have no boundaries per se. The UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is one such mechanism, though organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also play a role in highlighting HR abuses in various countries.

Local scenario

Sri Lanka has come under scrutiny at the UNHRC almost every year after the battle against terrorism ended in 2009. Sri Lanka has requested that it be given the time and space to address accountability and HR issues that have arisen from the battle through a purely domestic mechanism, though the countries that have sponsored the Resolutions against Sri Lanka would like to see some sort of international intervention in this regard. In the long run, some middle ground will have to be reached. It is a moot point that some serious HR violations by rich nations have been ignored for the most part while the Third World gets the rap and bad press for their HR record.

HR monitoring mechanisms

That, unfortunately, is how the world works and each country must try to maintain a spotless HR record not because the International Community demands it but because it is the right thing to do by one’s own people. All countries must strengthen their own internal HR monitoring mechanisms. In Sri Lanka, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has been doing a commendable job, calling out the authorities when it sees a violation of Human Rights of a person or a group. Such institutions should be strengthened so that the International Community will have no excuse or room to meddle in another country’s internal affairs or HR situation.

Right to feel safe and secure

As the world celebrates the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, all countries must take steps to raise awareness of this subject. Human rights cannot be separated from our day-to-day lives – everything that we do has a human rights dimension. We have the right to feel safe and secure in our homes, schools, workplaces, theatres, shopping complexes and in public transport. Terrorists and other groups have tried to take even this right away – sometimes with success. But everyone has the right to live without fear and suspicion in a world where their rights are respected and protected. In other words, a world where Freedom, Dignity and Justice for All exist.