Last Monday, December 10, was the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was drafted in 1948 by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world: Dr. Charles Malik (Lebanon), Alexandre Bogomolov (USSR), Dr. Peng-chun Chang (China), René Cassin (France), Eleanor Roosevelt (US), Charles Dukes (United Kingdom), William Hodgson (Australia), Hernan Santa Cruz (Chile), John P. Humphrey (Canada). The United Nations General Assembly in Paris formally approved it on Dec. 10, 1948, as a declaration of principles, a common standard for all peoples and all nations, listing fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
In 2009 on a visit to the Empire State Building in New York City, I was inspired as I read the Universal Human Rights displayed artistically on one of its walls. But I became more and more uneasy as I noted that we still have miles to go, until our actions match our words.
Long before the Declaration of Human Rights was written down, President Abraham Lincoln believed in his heart that “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.”[Article I of UDHR]. Nearing the 3rd year of the Civil War, he bravely issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward, shall be free.”
However, enslavement continues. And it takes many shapes around the world as well as in our own so called ‘land of the free’–human trafficking, debt bondage, unjust imprisonment, blocked access to resources and advancement opportunities, etc.
In a recent Global Sisters Report, Sr. Janet Kinney, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, and the executive director of the Partnership for Global Justice, a U.N.-based advocacy organization, referring to the 70th Anniversary, notes “We still have so far to go.” “Human rights violations are widespread across the globe. Faced with the reality of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the plight of the people of Syria, the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, migrants being turned away from our American borders, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the victims of human trafficking, the pilfering of our Earth of its natural resources — it can be overwhelming.”
But, as Lao Tzu wisely observed: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
One step—just one step at a time–makes miles to go seem more possible.