Seventy-two years ago today, on Dec. 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being—“regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
According to the UN, this is the most translated document in the world, available in 500 languages.
The world celebrates International Human Rights Day with the backdrop of a pandemic that has changed it. The situation has revealed deep inequalities across the world—poverty has risen, domestic violence is rising, and people’s right to free movement has been curtailed to help contain COVID.
But the UN remains hopeful as it says says human rights must be at the center of the post-COVID-19 world. “The COVID-19 crisis has been fuelled by deepening poverty, rising inequalities, structural and entrenched discrimination and other gaps in human rights protection. Only measures to close these gaps and advance human rights can ensure we fully recover and build back a world that is better, more resilient, just, and sustainable.”
It has become abundantly clear that, once the crisis over, we simply cannot go back to how the world was before. From this shared tragedy comes an opportunity: for humanity to build back better.
This year’s campaign revolves around recovering from the pandemic better and standing up for human rights. “As numerous countries around the globe have entered their second wave of the pandemic, it has become abundantly clear that, once the crisis over, we simply cannot go back to how the world was before. From this shared tragedy comes an opportunity: for humanity to build back better, we must put human rights at the heart of the recovery.”
The UN released a four-point campaign for the post-COVID world.
End discrimination of any kind: Structural discrimination and racism have fuelled the COVID-19 crisis. Equality and non-discrimination are core requirements for a post-COVID world.
Address inequalities: To recover from the crisis, we must also address the inequality pandemic. For that, we need to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights. We need a new social contract for a new era.
Encourage participation and solidarity: We are all in this together. From individuals to governments, from civil society and grass-roots communities to the private sector, everyone has a role in building a post-COVID world that is better for present and future generations. We need to ensure the voices of the most affected and vulnerable inform the recovery efforts.
Promote sustainable development: We need sustainable development for people and planet. Human rights, the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement are the cornerstone of a recovery that leaves no one behind.
When the UN Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed, then US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
In the Philippines, COVID-19 has also revealed the wide divide between the rich and poor, between ordinary citizens and people in authority with regard to the lockdowns.