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We’re All Human

December 11, 2010

Yesterday, December 10, marked the anniversary of the United Nations Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since that time, a whole network of human rights instruments and mechanisms has been developed to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur.

Human rights are the foundation of freedom, peace, development, and justice. In other words, without human rights, there can be no real democracy. Yet there are still violations of human rights that go on all over the world, all of the time.

Who are human rights defenders and what do they do? Here are just a few examples of who they are:

  • Journalists
  • Lawyers
  • Teachers
  • Doctors
  • Students
  • Politicians
  • Volunteers at a civil rights organization
  • A citizen who wants to make the world a better place

They are of all ages and have diverse backgrounds and occupations. There is no special qualification to be a human rights defender – all it takes is commitment and courage.

What do human rights defenders do?

  • Investigate human rights violations
  • Help people whose human rights have been violated
  • Protect the rights of minorities – racial, sexual, gender, religious, and others
  • Stand up, speak out – using newspapers, television, blogs, and tweets

Where do human rights defenders work? All around the world, in developed and developing countries, in democratic and  autocratic countries.

No matter where they are, who they are, or what they do, what do all human rights defenders have in common? They all share a commitment to expose wrongdoing, protect the most vulnerable and end impunity. They all have the fundamental conviction that human rights must be protected and promoted.

In most countries, human rights defenders are arrested, beaten, tortured, and murdered for the work they do. Their friends and family members are also subjected to harassment and intimidation.

Please take a few moments to visit the United Nations Human Rights Day 2010 page, and learn more about the people who are working, usually without any recognition of their actions and sometimes putting themselves in danger, to protect the rights of people around the world. We can all be human rights defenders, and – given how much we owe to others for the rights many of us now take for granted – we all should be human rights defenders. At the very least, we should do our utmost to support those who do defend human rights.

Think of what YOU can do to stop human rights abuses – it does not have to be something big, or take a lot of time. But all of us have a voice, and if we work together, we can make ourselves heard. As the UN Secretary General said:

“When the lives of human rights advocates are endangered, we are all less secure.

When the voices of human rights advocates are silenced, justice itself is drowned out.

On this Human Rights Day, let us be inspired by those seeking to make our world more just. And let us remember that everyone — no matter their background, training or education — can be a human rights champion.

So let us use that power. Let us each be a human rights defender.”

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