On December 10th, the world observes United Nations' Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to commemorate the adoption, by the UN General Assembly in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the first global enunciation of the inalienable rights of mankind. This year's observance highlights human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.
Having just lived through the horrors of the Second World War, the founding countries of the UN resolved, at the Organization's birth in 1945, to never again allow such atrocities to occur. Three years later, the UN General Assembly stated in the ground-breaking Universal Declaration of Human Rights that respect for human rights and human dignity "is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world". The first Human Rights Day Observance took place in 1950.
The decades that followed saw the development of numerous human rights instruments and mechanisms to ensure the primacy of human rights and to confront human rights violations wherever they occur. But none of this would be possible if not for the work of human rights activists who strive to end discrimination all over the world.
Acting alone or in groups within their communities, they work to end discrimination by campaigning for equitable and effective laws, reporting and investigating human rights violations and supporting victims. All too frequently, they do so at great risk to themselves and their families. But whether they are lawyers, journalists, and doctors, or have little or no education, they all have one thing in common: the fundamental belief that human rights must be protected and promoted.
"When we work to secure human rights," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her introduction to the Department of State's 2009 Human Rights Report, "we are working to protect the experiences that make life meaningful, to preserve each person’s ability to fulfill his or her God-given potential – the potential within every person to learn, discover and embrace the world around them; the potential to join freely with others to shape their communities and their societies so that every person can find fulfillment and self-sufficiency; the potential to share life’s beauties and tragedies, laughter and tears with the people they love."