The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 70 years on

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, (United States) holding a Declaration of Human Rights © UN Photo

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, (United States) holding a Declaration of Human Rights
© UN Photo

December is recognized as Human Rights month by the United Nations General Assembly. Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR).

Human Rights Day on December 11th, 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The milestone document proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being -- regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages. 

What are Human Rights?

Video - what are human rights?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. We need to stand up for our rights and those of others. We can take action in our own daily lives, to uphold the rights that protect us all and thereby promote the kinship of all human beings. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all.

  • Human rights are relevant to all of us, every day.
  • Our shared humanity is rooted in these universal values.
  • Equality, justice, and freedom prevent violence and sustain peace.
  • Whenever and wherever humanity's values are abandoned, we all are at greater risk.
  • We need to stand up for our rights and those of others. (UNDHR). "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. [...] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

In this document, I wish to acknowledge that the province of Nova Scotia, Canada will celebrate 50 years of Human Rights, on December 10, 2017, International Human Rights Day.

The Historical Context of Human Rights

"During the course of the past five decades, people throughout the world have taken up the mantle of human equality in ways that have no historical precedent. In the United States, we have seen the civil rights movement, the women's movement, and the expression of acceptance of and equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) people. The public discourse has changed so dramatically during the past fifty years that in a great many social and professional circles, it is now completely unacceptable to voice openly bigoted statements. In South Africa, apartheid the horrific system designed to subjugate black South Africans to permit the white minority to maintain power) has been gone for more than twenty years. In Europe, we have seen the removal of the Berlin Wall, countries have moved towards elevating gender equality to formal public policy status. Many governments of these nations are studying the many facets of multiculturalism as waves of immigrants radically change the demographics of historically homogeneous countries." (Ross, Howard. J 2014)

The changes in human rights have also made significant strides in Canada. We have witnessed various apologies to people and nations who have been wronged. While the international law requires compensation but not apologies for serious human rights violations, an apology yields tremendous significance for victims nonetheless. They represent a formal attempt by the government to acknowledge the serious harm inflicted on an individual, their family, or an entire community. They send a strong message that the government acted unlawfully (Human Rights Watch July 2017).

Birth of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission 1967 - 2017

Photo credit: Nova Scotia Archives

Photo credit: Nova Scotia Archives

The Nova Scotia, Human Rights Commission, was founded in 1967 because citizens of Nova Scotia were concerned about the plight of African Nova Scotian, and members of the Visible Minority communities who were facing discrimination and repression. It also reflected on renewed efforts to address the treatment of indigenous peoples of Nova Scotian. Discrimination impacted every aspect of their lives. Poor housing, lack of education, unemployment, and poor health were endemic in these communities.

The newly founded Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission identified the three pillars of human rights were "fair and equal access to employment, education, and housing." Give all of our citizens a decent education, give all who can work a job at a living wage where they can earn their way with dignity and self-respect and make more safe and affordable housing available for all." (225). 

This was the request from community leaders and trailblazers in the field of human rights here in Nova Scotia. Under the leadership of successive directors of the NSHRC tremendous efforts were made to develop initiatives and programs to raise awareness about the local issues across the province. Nova Scotians have worked tirelessly to bring about change, engage in education and information on human rights so that people are treated with dignity and respect.

Through the complaint mechanism members of the public can bring their complaints to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission for a fair hearing.

More information about the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission can be found about the 50th Anniversary of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission on the following web page -