Human Rights Day: Treating everyone with dignity and respect

To mark this occasion, today’s blog comes from my Inclusion Adviser on Migration, Forward Maisokwadzo

Today is Human Rights Day, 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This milestone document proclaims the inalienable rights to which everyone is entitled as human beings – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, gender, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, or any other status.

The Declaration arose from a desire to never again witness the dreadful inhumanity which had led to millions of people being killed in a war that had affected the globe. It was never a set of supreme statements but a set of practical standards by which humanity should seek to live and conduct itself, by which the nations of the world would co-exist in peace and unity. It is all about what it means to be human.

This year’s Human Rights Day theme, Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights, relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. It could not be more relevant. We will only achieve our common global goals if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and fueled by the COVID-19 crisis, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systemic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.

December 10is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building our city and the world we want, the need for global solidarity, (including city to city) as well as to celebrate interconnectedness and shared humanity.

The UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human Rights” aims to engage the general public and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies.

From here in Bristol I am aware of so many events and debates being held, nationally and across the globe, to acknowledge and celebrate this day. I am sure these events, debates and discussions, the majority of them being held virtually due to the pandemic, will provide an opportunity to highlight what has been achieved to date while at the same time pointing us all to the work that still needs to be done.

Three global issues – the pandemic, racial inequality, and the climate emergency – show that what we have in common as human beings is far more important than our differences.

As we look ahead to 2021, what are the pivotal human rights issues that all of us should be paying attention to?  We are at the dawn of a decade when the decisions we make as a City and in society at large on how to address economic inequality, climate change, technological innovation, and political polarisation will shape our shared future for generations to come.

I hope there will be a sense that human rights are the concern of all, and not just the concern of a particular minority interest group. The challenge is increasingly to make human rights part and parcel of ordinary discourse, debate and priority especially in the current environment where political debate has often become toxic and divisive, and basic human rights become invisible.

The world does not stand still and as we celebrate human rights today we need to consider the challenges which are affecting our communities now. We must stand united with so many groups across Bristol, the UK and globally who are calling for everyone to be treated with dignity and respect: the carers, LGBT communities, children, older people, people affected by dementia, black and minority ethnic communities, people seeking sanctuary and other migrant communities, people with learning disabilities, people affected by the Windrush scandal, women experiencing domestic violence, among many others.

The UK has long played a leading role in protecting human rights across the globe and was one of the first nations to sign the UDHR. British lawyers drafted the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, which in 1998 was given further effect in UK law through the Human Rights Act. As we celebrate this global Human Rights Day and in the midst of a pandemic, it is worrying the Government has recently ordered to review the Human Rights Act. Such a move Amnesty International says puts some communities and rights at risk. The human rights watchdog stressed that it is important for Government to understand that promoting universal human rights should not just be abroad, but here at home as well. Hillsborough, Grenfell, and other issues underline the importance of an effective Human Rights Act here in the UK. As we celebrate Human Rights Day the Government needs to reflect on whether there is need to review the rights and freedoms that underpin our democracy.