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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

International Human Rights Day: A Time to Celebrate and Reflect

By Lucy Turner 

Empire State Building will turn blue in honor of Human Rights Watch 
on December 10, 2013. © 2013 Empire State Building
How will you celebrate Human Rights? December 10th is International Human Rights Day, when people around the world mark the General Assembly’s adoption of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This day gives us the opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in the pursuit of human rights protection and promotion, but also invites us to contemplate how far we have yet to go.

This year GHRD welcomed news from Bangladesh that Hijras are now a recognized separate gender. Hijras, who are neither male nor female, from now on will be considered as a separate gender in Bangladesh. After Malala Yousafzai spoke at the United Nations this year on her 16th birthday about the power of education, the world seemed to listen; Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif made a breakthrough commitment that the country would double its education budget from 2% to 4% of its GDP by 2018 - an increase of approximately $4 billion. Nepal’s introduction of a third gender classification for passports marked further progress for LGBT rights.

Malala Yousafzau at Oval Office October 2013
And this year GHRD itself has had many achievements, including establishing coalitions in Bangladesh and Pakistan to unite civil society organizations, running a prominent European Lobby Tour in the European Parliament, launching a successful crowd funding campaign, taking our documentary ‘Pakistan: A Defining Moment’ on tour around the Netherlands, amongst others.

However, whilst there have been several developments this year, and GHRD personally has achieved many things, there remain numerous problems for human rights defenders around the world. Our partners in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan face regular threats of violence against themselves, their homes and their families. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to disproportionately affect non-Muslims and minorities, and non-state violence in the form of mobs and riots resulting from blasphemy allegations are common. In Bangladesh, despite the 2009 and 2013 UPR sessions (during which the Bangladeshi government claimed that most of Chittagong Hill Tracts peace accord had been implemented) recurring conflicts between ethnic and religious minority groups and “settlers” from the majority Bengali community persist. Reports of arbitrary arrests, torture and unlawful killings continue.

Around the world today people will contemplate human rights past, present and future. Our partners in South Asia will be hosting events, whilst we are holding events in the Netherlands. And there is cause for celebration: much has changed since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and much progress has been made, but there is far to go. International Human Rights Day is for celebration, looking forward to a more equitable world, and sharing messages of solidarity and hope.

December 1950 - United Nations International Nursery School, New York: Children of United Nations staff members looking at a poster of Universal declaration of Human Rights

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Disclaimer: Blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Human Rights Defence.