By Elizabeth Cole
Human Rights Day, celebrated on 10 December every year, commemorates the day in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, in 1948. Following the conclusion of the Second World War and the creation of the United Nations, this document was made in an attempt to ‘never again…allow atrocities like those to happen again’. It was viewed as a ‘milestone document in the history of human rights’, supposed to be a common note of reference for all peoples and nations. Through 30 articles, the document aimed to provide the foundations of freedom, justice and peace by promoting a common understanding of and universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Progress in human rights
Since 1948, it must be said that significant progress has been made towards establishing a base level of human rights freedoms and protections across the world. The establishment of numerous treaty bodies, most importantly the ICCPR and the ICC, but also treaties founded to combat torture, discrimination and workers’ rights, among others, have enabled the values founded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to take root in a more physical and permanent way. The United Nations has grown to play a key role in ending conflict, ensuring that human rights abuses are dealt with effectively, and pushing for a minimum level of human rights protection to be maintained worldwide. Indeed, the values and rights established under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been integral to enabling the UN to fulfil its duties regarding human rights successfully.
Issues of concern
In brief, the resolution for Myanmar was concerned with the situation of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, that for Yemen concerning the human rights situation more generally, including attacks on civilians, the denial of humanitarian aid, and the use of starvation as a method of warfare, and that for Syria also concerning the human rights situation more generally, including attacks on civilians and infrastructures, the use of violent weaponry, the continuation of enforced disappearances and the continuing high numbers of displaced peoples. The resolutions for the specific issues followed a similar trajectory but focused on the issues themselves rather than those issues relating to particular countries.However, that is not to say that, as a result of this declaration, there are no remaining issues for concern in human rights terms. At the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in September 2019, key countries with prevailing human rights difficulties included Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, with key issues including arbitrary detention, a lack of human rights education, the treatment of indigenous peoples, modern slavery, transitional justice, and terrorism. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Michelle Bachelet, also put specific emphasis on the new challenges facing human rights protection, including developments in the digital landscape and climate change.
Moreover, in line with the organisations’ particular subjects of concern, Iraq is facing particularly worrying human rights violations at present, with abhorrent bloodshed and large numbers of injuries inflicted upon peaceful demonstrators during the current protests, which have been taking place since 1 October 2019. Indeed, current UN figures suggest 400 purposeful deaths and over 11,000 innocent people injured by the security forces, though the numbers are likely to be significantly higher. These are mostly the result of violent tactics of demonstration suppression, which have targeted demonstrators directly with live and rubber bullets and tear gas canisters; these are almost always directed at the heads and chests of the demonstrators, evidently
with the intention to kill or seriously harm. Other human rights abuses in Iraq include the continuing practice of enforced disappearances, the use of the death penalty for non-serious crimes, the destruction of cities and the use of torture.
Position of GICJ
In light of this, GICJ urges all states, and especially those states noted above, to review their own human rights situation and reflect on progress made towards universal human rights protections, both in their own countries and across the world. GICJ calls for all states to ratify both the ICCPR and the ICC to ensure that the principles and values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are implemented effectively worldwide. Moreover, we advocate for stronger efforts by both international organisations, such as the UN, and groups on the ground, to combat human rights abuses more effectively. Especially in light of the protests in Iraq, GICJ firmly believes that more could be done to punish the actions of the security forces and to ensure that the voices of the protestors are being heard internationally.
To conclude, it must be said that in spite of efforts made each year towards the better establishment of human rights protections worldwide, there is still much progress to be made. Indeed, despite the existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN, the world is still plagued by grave human rights abuses – especially in places where civil society remains weak. As such, it is essential for both international organisations and groups on the ground to continue their efforts to uphold human rights protections across the globe, and to ensure that all human rights abuses are adequately reproved.
 United Nations, History of the Document, 2015, https://www.un.org/en/sections/universal-declaration/history-document/index.html
 United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 2015, https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
Keywords: UN General Assembly Resolution 69/323, 29 November, Genocide Convention, 9 December 1948, Prevent Genocide, Crime of Genocide, Justice, Geneva, Human Rights, Geneva4Justice.
Justice, Human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice