Image of Every Human Has Rights Sign by Markus Spiske

Universal Human Rights: How We Can Contribute

By Leani García Torres

As we kick off the month that for many brings thoughts of holiday cheer, family, and gathering together, we also approach another important milestone. December 10 marks 73 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. For the first time in history, this document recognized and clearly stated the “inherent dignity and … equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” And while more than 70 years have passed since the events that spurred the world into action and led to the drafting and signing of this landmark document, the impulses that led to those actions haven’t faded.  

It’s difficult to go a day without seeing an egregious violation of these most basic rights on the news. From civil wars and international conflict to human trafficking and violent state-sponsored censorship. It can be easy, and understandable, to grow numb to the crises we see unfolding before our eyes, especially against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has only intensified disparities, economic and social hardship, abuse, and inequality. As our country strives to rebuild our resettlement infrastructure to welcome refugees and asylum seekers who are escaping some of the worst violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on how we can contribute to the goal of advancing human rights. 

As individuals, we can’t take on global systems of inequality alone, but we can start small, by slowly improving ourselves and growing our impact throughout our spheres of influence. As a recovering perfectionist who can have a hard time moving past mistakes, I have found Maya Angelou’s quote incredibly liberating, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Yes, we may not have always been an active participant in disrupting our own implicit biases, we may not have felt like we could — or should — use our voice to stand up for our neighbors who were being silenced or maligned, but every day we have a new opportunity to learn, to grow, and to do better. The same way that individual biases can lead to escalating human rights abuses, the seemingly small act of confronting our biases can lead to ripples, and then currents that affirm the dignity of all humans and lead to a more inclusive community. Together, we can help break the cycles and the systems that have led Universal Human Rights Month to be as relevant today as it was 73 years ago.

I love that December is about celebrating family — biological and chosen — and togetherness, a chance to remind ourselves that the days will not always be this short and that the sun will bring light to the darkness again. But having Universal Human Rights Month in December also gives us an opportunity to remember that we can recognize where we may need to make conscious choices to fight unconscious bias, and work together for a more equal and just society that recognizes the dignity of all humankind. 

*Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash