For 74 years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has stood as a beacon of hope and a global guide towards development, peace and security. This remarkable document, born out of the brutality witnessed during the first and second World Wars, enshrines the rights of all human beings and recognises the equal worth of every person.
Adopted on 10 December 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UDHR marked the first time the international community agreed on a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. The UDHR became the blueprint for international, national, and local laws and policies.
In the years following its adoption, the UDHR gave rise to many struggles for stronger human rights protection and helped them to be more recognised.
Article 1 of the UDHR, which states that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," fuelled the principles of the Freedom Charter and the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
Exactly 48 years after the UDHR was adopted, on 10 December 1996, the South African Constitution was signed into law.
The provisions in the UDHR inspired the Bill of Rights contained in the Constitution. South Africa successfully transitioned from a discriminatory regime to a thriving democracy with a globally revered Constitution guaranteeing civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.
But the promise of the UDHR and the Constitution is being tested – not for its value, but rather in terms of a reversal in the enjoyment of rights that we are currrently witnessing.
Global economic shocks and uneven recovery following Covid-19 have amplified poverty, inequality and structural discrimination.
Women’s and children’s rights are violated daily through violence and abuse.
More than two-thirds of young people are unemployed.
Climate-related disasters have become more commonplace, claiming lives and battering livelihoods.
As South Africa tackles these challenges, the values and rights enshrined in the UDHR and the Constitution must continue to steer our solutions.
We must urgently shift from economic approaches and models that fuel instability to a new social contract, which more fairly shares power, resources and opportunities and sets the foundations of a sustainable human rights-based economy.
International Human Rights Day, this year, marks the start of a year-long campaign to promote and recognise the milestone 75th anniversary of the UDHR in 2023 (UDHR75) under the theme “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.”
With pushback against the human rights agenda and threats to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the campaign is a rallying call for us to mobilise in defence of human rights and our common future.
Let us stand up for human rights.
Let us invest in human rights.
Let us demonstrate what humanity can achieve when we act with common purpose.
History has shown us that the solutions to present and future challenges are rooted in human rights.
Today and every day, the United Nations stands with the people of South Africa to work towards a more sustainable, just, and prosperous society.