| 10-12-2018

Facing old ghosts, envisioning the future: Human Rights Declaration turns 70

FIAN International recalls that human rights have an important role to play in overcoming intersecting structural oppression

Seven decades ago, heated discussions among UN Member States - mainly consisting of the Americas, Europe and East Asia at the time -  were held over the final draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). For some, the text was full of promise, for others not enough, but regardless, the Declaration unmasked strong concerns over the return of future forms of fascism and a genuine desire for international, lasting peace. Would this 30-article document be good enough to face the challenges of the modern world and keep us away from war? 

The needs of modern society in the post-war era presented numerous challenges, especially within a context of growing capitalism. As echoed during the discussions, “the historical development of the capitalist society had imposed on the individual unfavorable economic conditions”. A declaration of those rights without providing assurances of adequate material conditions in which they could be enjoyed would be, in his own words, “illusory”.

Throughout the decades, international human rights law has expanded significantly. But still, these concerns are clearly unresolved.

Intersecting structural oppression
While world hunger is on the rise, intersecting structural oppression is deepening: the predominant economic model continues to generate dispossession, inequality, migration and displacement. Environmental and climate destruction, largely driven by national and transnational corporate activities is endangering life. Meanwhile, patriarchy, racism and neo-colonialism make some specific social groups main subjects of exploitation.
FIAN International firmly believes that human rights have an important role to play in overcoming intersecting structural oppression. For this, the unresolved questions from 1948 and new emerging challenges, such as those related to the     dominant use of new technologies, need to become center stage. More than ever, there is an urgent  need to continue expanding the traditional narrow scope of human rights - still predominantly based on individual civil and political rights - on both Western and urban views of the world.
Role models that give hope

The     imminent adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas by the UN General Assembly shows that this is possible. It has been peasants from the Global South themselves who have conceptualized, developed and pushed for the adoption of this declaration to make visible their struggles against the destruction of their livelihoods and their lives. They have stood up to reclaim their dignity, political agency and power.
During this six-year journey, discussions have reached a peak when touching upon the human rights for collectivities, just like in 1948. But after all this time discussions have paid off and culminated with the recognition of human rights such as the right to land, water, seeds and biodiversity . Human rights that are indeed essential to counter the increasing rates of hunger. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to be an essential instrument for the perseverance of international peace and the wellbeing of individuals around the globe. It is our duty to fight the old ghosts, and continue to build a stronger, more critical human rights movement.