Human Rights Day 2017

is Human Rights Day. But this year’s Human Rights Day is a little different.

Normally, the United Nations gives each Human Rights Day a theme. 2014’s theme was: Every day is Human Rights Day. 2015’s was: Our Rights, Our Freedoms, Always. Last year’s was: Stand up for someone’s rights today!

[Logo for the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a stylized blue and orange “70” over the words “years”, which is over the words “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, which is over “#standup4humanrights”.]

This year, Human Rights Day marks the start of a year-long celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was published .

I think that’s a great excuse to take a moment to read through the UDHR. It’s not all that long – only 30 articles – and there’s virtually no legalese. In fact, the language of the UDHR is so simple, it’s often used as a sample document for illustrating languages and scripts. The UDHR itself is translated in whole or in part into over 500 languages.

There is widespread ignorance about fundamental human rights. Currently there is a hullabaloo about the government’s programs to deradicalize returning extremist fighters, and a lot of the noise is people calling for returnees to be stripped of the Canadian citizenship, or punished even in the absence of solid evidence that they committed any real crimes. People making those demands should be directed to Articles 15(2) and 11 respectively.

[Logo for the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a stylized blue and orange “70” over the words “ans”, which is over the words “Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme”, which is over “#standup4humanrights”.]

But reading through the UDHR isn’t just an exercise in learning about rights in general. Important as that may be on its own, I think it’s more important that everyone read through the UDHR and ask: Do I enjoy all of the rights enumerated in the UDHR? Do all Canadians? Because there are very real arguments that we might not. For example, Articles 22 and 25(1) seem to suggest that a Universal Basic Income program is required in any state that respects its citizens’ rights. Or maybe not. Read it yourself and come to your own conclusions.

The UDHR is not a legal document in and of itself. However, it does form the basis for treaties Canada has signed on to, such as: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; the United Nations Convention Against Torture; and many more. It also serves as a foundation for human rights law, theory, and discussion.

So make it a resolution for 2018 to get better acquainted with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to learn more about the rights it enumerates. Ignorance of your rights is the first step to losing them.

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