Human Rights Day is an international event celebrated every year to honour the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations. The formal establishment of Human Rights Day occurred at the 317th Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on 4 December 1950, when the General Assembly declared in resolution 423(V), and invited all member states and any other interested organisations to celebrate the day as they saw fit.
It is in response to this declaration that groups in Nigeria take it upon themselves to address specific areas of concern. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), to this end, marked the day with an appeal to the federal government to pay more attention to a series of human rights abuses in the North- Eastern part of the country.
This was just as it described corruption as the greatest form of rights abuse. On its part, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) held rallies during which it called attention to the need to restructure the Police for better performance. These are in keeping with the theme for 2017 which is let’s stand up for equality, justice and human dignity.
Almost everywhere around the world, the day is normally marked both by high-level political conferences and meetings and by cultural events and exhibitions dealing with human rights issues. In addition, it is traditionally on 10 December that the five-yearly United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prize are awarded. Many governmental and non-governmental organisations, active in the human rights field, also schedule special events to commemorate the day, as do many civil and social-cause organisations.
The popularity of the day can be understood from the fact that the commemorative Human Rights Day stamp issued by the United Nations Postal Administration in 1952, received approximately 200,000 advance orders. When the General Assembly adopted the Declaration, with 48 states in favour and eight abstentions, it was proclaimed as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, towards which individuals and societies should strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance. The measure was received by both advocates and critics alike as being more declarative than legislative, more suggestive than binding.
Although the Declaration with its broad range of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights is not a binding document, it inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights. In Nigeria, Chapter IV of the 1999 constitution dwells extensively on the subject of fundamental rights. Today the general consent of all United Nations Member States on the basic Human Rights laid down in the Declaration makes it even stronger and emphasises the relevance of Human Rights in societies.
The subject of Human Rights is so important that a whole Office in the United Nations under a High Commissioner for Human Rights monitors its observance on a global scale as it plays a major role in coordinating efforts for the yearly observation of Human Rights Day.
Humanity recognises poverty as the gravest human rights challenge in the world. Combating poverty, deprivation and exclusion is not seen as a matter of charity, and it does not depend on how rich a country is. By tackling poverty as a matter of human rights obligation, the world will have a better chance of abolishing this scourge. The United Nations is unequivocal in its declaration that Poverty eradication is an achievable goal.
We recall that when on 10 December 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was marked, the UN Secretary-General, to emphasise its significance, launched a year-long campaign leading up to it. As a document, the UDHR holds the world record as the most translated document (except for the Bible). Organisations around the globe used the year to focus on helping people everywhere learn about their rights.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN’s Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders and the African Union’s Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have a joint communiqué in which they commended the European Union for its recent adoption of a set of guidelines for protecting human rights defenders and urged the world’s other regions to take similar steps in that direction. It is that important and that is why also Human Rights Day is endorsed by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) as an official day of Humanist celebration.
It is in this context that African nations, in our opinion, and in particular, Nigeria, must endeavour to fight corruption, poverty, brutal enforcement of laws and treating perceived criminals first as human beings from the point of view of human rights and in accordance with international best practices.