Letters & Opinion

The Universal Declaration has Stood the Test of Time

By Mary M. Francis Director/Coordinator National Centre For Legal Aid And Human Rights Inc.

But Saint Lucia’s economic development model must change if Human Rights are to be respected as they should…

MONDAY December 10th 2018, celebrated as Human Rights Day, is very significant as it marks the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th December 1948, “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

This seminal document is historic and is a beacon of light which has withstood the test of time in promoting the equality and dignity of all persons everywhere in the world. It has ushered in a universal culture of Human Rights whereby all persons are encouraged to Stand up for equality and Justice.

As a result of the Declaration individuals were for the first time made the subjects of International Law. This was not always the case, because until this time only States were the subjects of International Law meaning only states were granted rights and duties under International Law, and not the citizens who were not subjects of International Law.

Consequently citizens and individuals whose rights were abused and who suffered oppression at the hands of their Governments had no rights of redress under the International Law resulting in gross violation of their Human Rights; This was particularly the case during the Second World War. At the end of the war in 1945 the Allied powers U.K. U.S. U.S.S.R, France, (China) who had won the war resolved never again that war should be fought and so it was that the United Nations was established and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted and adopted so as to bring respect for Human Rights within the purview of the United Nations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights marked a new era for the protection of Human Rights. It meant for the first time human beings were being protected by International Law, because their Human Rights were spelt out and the State members of the United Nations then were under an obligation to protect those rights. As a result the Universal Declaration can be seen as a milestone in the history of modern Human Rights.

Article I declares the principle of equality and dignity of the human person.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights consists of 30 articles which deal with civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights which demonstrate the indivisibility and interdependence of Human Rights as being rights which are inherent in all human beings without which we cannot live as human beings. Consequently, there is no picking or choosing which human rights are most important, whether civil and political rights or the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All are necessary for the survival of human beings. There is no need to exclude certain human rights under pretext of cultural relativism. Human Rights supersede all cultures as well as state boundaries.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not intended by its Drafters to be legally binding on the Member States of the United Nations. It was seen as a Declaration of moral principles which would guide the world in setting universal standards for the protection and promotion of Human Rights, because the Articles were written in general language, and not in specific language so as to constitute a binding legal document.

This shortcoming was addressed with the adoption by the U.N General Assembly later in 1966 of two very important Covenants namely International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which incorporated the principles of the Declaration and which became legally binding on the Member States of the United Nations which ratified the two Covenants.

In this manner the Universal Declaration of Human Rights acquired the effect of a binding document.

The two Covenants and the Declaration became known as the International Bill of Human Rights and many United Nations Conventions spring from them, for example the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1979) entering into force in 1981 and Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989. Thus it is, that the significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must always be highlighted as without it, the world would be far worst.

With over 100 International Conventions, Instruments and Declarations, it has ushered in Universal Human Rights as could not have been contemplated in 1948.

Indeed it has withstood the test of time because it is cited in the Preamble to the several Conventions of the United Nations which followed. It is very relevant and lives in the many Constitutions of the countries of the world such is the case of our own Constitution which guarantees in Chapter I Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of every person in Saint Lucia.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a seminal document, also lives and breathes in the Judgments of Courts worldwide. The rights created thereunder are still evolving into a new generation of Human Rights for different groups of individuals such as the L.G.B.T.

Legal scholars and Human Rights N.G.Os have made use of Article 2 of the Universal Declaration and Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which forbids discrimination on grounds of “race, colour, sex, birth… or other status.” These words “OR OTHER STATUS” are being given an expansive meaning, so as to create a new generation of Human Rights.

Today, the world faces several challenges as many of the gains over the 70 years of Universal Human Rights are being eroded by Governments worldwide. Wars are fought daily and poverty is increasing and press freedom is nonexistent in some countries. And yes, even here in St. Lucia, human rights are under siege, due to the broken justice system, lack of adequate health and lack of adequate housing, all of which have been neglected over many years.

We must all stand up for our rights to social and economic justice, for our right to liberty and security, in the face of those great challenges which are due to the economic model of development inherited by St. Lucia.

The time has come for changing this model if all persons must enjoy Human Rights to the fullest, for Human Rights are indivisible, they are inalienable and must be promoted and respected, without which we cannot live as human beings.

The Universal Declaration is even more relevant today against the challenges of poverty, crime, oppression. It has stood the test of time.

On this Human Rights Day let’s all commit ourselves to Stand Up For Human Rights.

Join a Human Rights N.G.O, become involved because Human Rights is the foundation of peace and democracy.

Government must take the lead. Further, a call is made to the Government, on this 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to establish a National Commission for Human Rights, for St. Lucia.

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