Human Rights Day falls on 10 December every year, the day when, back in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the world's most widely translated and possibly most influential document – was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, itself just three years old at the time.
While its promise is yet to be fulfilled, the very fact that the Declaration has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.
The Universal Declaration was drawn up by a world wounded by war, by representatives, and endorsed by leaders, of countries from all continents, who were – to quote from the Declaration's preamble – fully, recently, sorely, aware that 'disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.'
Today, as World War II and the Holocaust grow distant, that awareness appears to be evaporating at an alarming rate, and the enormous progress that has been achieved through progressive enactment of human rights principles, as laid out in the Universal Declaration, is being increasingly forgotten or wilfully ignored.
We see mounting cruelties and crimes being perpetrated in conflicts across the world; an antagonistic nationalism on the rise, with surging levels of racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination taking root.
The Universal Declaration is a commitment, by all States, that they will protect and promote human rights. It is essential that we continue to hold those States to account. But human rights are too important to be left to States alone – too precious to all of us, and to our children.
We must organise and mobilise in defence of human decency, in defence of a better common future. We must not stand by, bewildered, as the post-World War II system of values unravels around us. We must take a robust and determined stand: by resolutely supporting the human rights of others, we also stand up for our own rights and those of generations to come.
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights