December 8, 2008

Know your rights.

December 10 marks the 60th anniversary of the UN adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global statement of its kind. Outlining 30 basic rights to which all humans are inherently entitled, essential for us all to achieve our full potential, and to live a life free of fear and want, it affirms all humans free and equal, regardless of race, religion, economic status, age, gender, or personal characteristics, and pronounces these basic rights the foundation of peace, justice, and freedom in our world.

Along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols – one creating an individual complaints mechanism, the other abolishing the death penalty – ratified (with the usual reservations) by 163 nations, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified (ditto) by 159 nations, the Declaration forms the International Bill of Human Rights. Unlike the Charter of the UN, the Declaration isn't a binding treaty itself; it complements the Charter as a fundamental constitutive document.

Created in the late 1940s, when it became apparent that the UN didn't sufficiently define the rights referenced in the Charter, in particular the “fundamental freedoms” and “human rights,” the Declaration was initially drafted by Canadian legal scholar John Humphrey. It provided a foundation for the Canadian Human Rights Act, which aims to inspire a vision for Canada in which “all individuals [free from discrimination] should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have.”

So, take the time on Wednesday to rediscover the world's most translated document (into more than 360 languages), take part in local events, as year long activities around the theme Dignity and justice for all of us culminate, and make sure you know your rights. In Canada the day will likely pass quietly, as our political leaders enjoy their unscheduled work stoppage, following the Conservative PM's refusal to put the reactionary policies of his minority government to a vote.

But you can still remind the PM that his government's attempts to legislate away complaints related to pay equity, filed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, are an affront to the principles of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the international human rights standards that Canada is supposed to be upholding. An alternative to dealing with Mr Harper's impenitent band of redneck buffoons, is to Write for Rights with Amnesty International Canada, or simply adding your name to the Every Human Has Rights campaign initiated by The Elders.

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