Building on the Declaration of Human Rights

December 10, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

Jameila Douglas (C) and Maung Maung Aye (R), a member of the Burmese Parliament, hold the torch during the Sydney leg of the Global Human Rights Torch Relay.  (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)
Jameila Douglas (C) and Maung Maung Aye (R), a member of the Burmese Parliament, hold the torch during the Sydney leg of the Global Human Rights Torch Relay. (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)
Celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the focus of attention this week as Human Rights Day falls on December 10. While some can see progress in the awareness of rights internationally, others are questioning whether there is much to celebrate.

A recent survey has shown that over 70 per cent of Australian youth knows nothing about the Declaration and few could name any of the 30 basic human rights outlined in the landmark document.

Youth for Human Rights Australia, who were planning to take to the streets of Sydney dressed as peace angels to promote the Declaration, say more needs to be done to raise awareness of human rights abuse.

“Violations of human rights occur every day around us. Most of us sit back and see it and don’t like it, but we do little to change it because we don’t think we can,” says Youth for Human Rights spokesperson Faith Te-Dang, an 18-year-old Filipino–Australian.

“To bring about peace within our diverse Australian communities, we have to educate both youth and adults that we all have 30 basic rights and that, not only are we entitled to them, but in order to make a difference, we also have to be willing to grant them to others and to do something about protecting the rights of others,” she said

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was formulated in 1948 by the then 70 member nations of the United Nations (UN) following the horrors of World War II.

The UN describes the document as “the foundation of international human rights law, the first universal statement on the basic principles of inalienable human rights and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

Professor Peter Bailey, specialist in human rights law at the Australian National University (ANU), agrees that more needs to be done to implement the standards agreed by the now 192 members of the UN, but there are many positives that have come from the Declaration.

“Knowledge of human rights has spread,” he told The Epoch Times. “The Declaration is now used by politicians and behind them, the law.”

Professor Bailey cited laws on racial and sexual discrimination, equality and rights of the child as just some of the legal developments stemming from the standards set by the Declaration.

While more could be done regionally in building an Asian charter of human rights, as seen in Africa, Europe and America, Professor Bailey believes the most significant development to grow out of the Declaration is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which the Rudd Government is to ratify.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” he said, explaining that it was the scope of the document that was exciting.

“It talks about culture where there is no reference to that in the Declaration,” he said. “It talks about self-determination where there is no reference to that in the Declaration.

“The Universal Declaration is good, but this is new – an important and influential document.”