Our Human World is a Complicated Place
The years following WWII represented a raising of our awareness, possibly for the first time in history, to the vital necessity of preserving standards of living on a global scale. Prior to that time, international law was focused only on what was “fair play” during war time; the humane treatment of prisoners of war, for instance. With the founding of the United Nations in 1947, world leaders were finally talking about establishing a lasting peace.
It took another twenty years, though, before the International Bill of Human Rights was set down, and ten more years before it was accepted and signed by a majority of the member-states of the UN. The bill encompasses two separate treaties (the ICCPR and the ICESC) along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The treaties, both the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights were signed into law in the UN General Assembly in 1976.
However, when the United Nations Charter was being written in 1947, many believed that a separate statement was needed to precisely define what “human rights” were and what the UN could do to protect them
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written in 1948, is a foundational part of the IBHR, but one that is non-legally binding. The framers determined that it should be a “declaration” as opposed to a treaty so that it’s ideals might be used as a guideline for individual member-states forming governments for the first time. That is precisely what happened and the Declaration has been translated into 370 languages and dialects.
I Should Care?
The reality is, it takes hard work and often years of striving to be successful in a competitive society. We spend our lives in transition from college to entry level employment and up through the food chain before finally retiring to a life of ease that we feel we’ve earned.
But the ideals in the Declaration are meant to transcend cultural differences like these. Viewed from a global perspective, a wealthy businessman flying first class versus a member of a tribal culture in South America with access to the healthcare they need for their families seem to represent opposite ends of the spectrum, when in fact, both could be satisfied with the quality of their lives.
The 30 Articles of the Declaration outline in general terms that humans of every race, color, sex, religion, and political affiliation are equally protected by international law. It’s considered a human right to have a nationality and to travel freely from place to place. Every person deserves to have educational opportunities and to contribute to a society. Freedom of “thought, conscience, and religion” are protected as well. Cruel and inhumane treatment, invasion of privacy, and slandering the reputation of others are things that are not just prohibited, the Preamble of the Declaration suggests that these should outrage “the conscience of mankind”
Looking back through the 20th century, our lives have changed for the better in many ways but it hasn’t been a steady climb upward; more like the ups and downs of a rollercoaster. Competitiveness has resulted in the mindset of “survival of the fittest” and we often struggle against change until we suddenly realize that we’ve crossed a line somewhere.
These things seem to take time. Whole generations, in fact. Making forward progress might simply be the result of remembering where we’ve been in the past and to continue talking about the best qualities we share as humans.