“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” —Eleanor Roosevelt, American Delegate to the United Nations
This month marks the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which was established on December 10, 1948. The driving force behind the creation of the Commission was The former First Lady of the United States at that time, Eleanor Roosevelt. Throughout her career, Eleanor identified and codified the liberties in the 1948 Human Rights Declaration.
Eleanor Roosevelt began her life as a privileged woman with a remarkable humanistic sensitivity that drove her to a lifelong career in advocacy and social justice for populations in New York City tenements. Through her early commitment to volunteerism in the 1900s, with other New York socialites such as the Harriman’s, she began her career in civic leadership, through teaching English to immigrant families and working with refugees as one of the Founders of Junior League. Early in the 20th century, she married Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, as we know, would be elected the President of the United States in 1933. It was Eleanor who raised her husband’s consciousness and worked toward assisting Depression-era families.
The First Lady of the World
During the Great Depression, she turned her attention to the needs of the poor in the South. Through Eleanor’s influence, the Roosevelt era administration created many modern social programs, including groundbreaking legislation such as Social Security, WPA and immediate economic relief from the Great Depression. Her passion resulted in reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, labor, housing and welfare for families with dependent children. Eleanor changed the previously more traditional role of First Lady, first by joining her husband on the campaign trail, and then by becoming an advocate for Human Rights during and after World War II, so much so that she eventually became the first delegate to the United Nations from 1945-1952, and was known as the “First Lady of the World.”
After the death of her husband (1945), she was appointed by President Harry S. Truman as the First U.S delegate to the newly established United Nations and in 1946 Eleanor was selected to Chair and draft a Declaration for Human rights. The focus of the document was on refugee issues and on creating elements that might prevent another war. She became a forceful advocate for women and children.
In the past 70 years the Human Right Declaration has expanded exponentially and celebrates the following:
∙ 500 languages: UDHR holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the most translated document in the world, with translations ranging from Abkhaz to Zulu.
∙ 18 treaties and optional protocols advancing human rights have been agreed since 1948.
∙ 198 countries now allow women the right to vote, compared to 91 countries in 1948.
∙ 104 countries have now outlawed capital punishment, compared to only 9 in 1948.
∙ 57% of countries have a national human rights institution today.
∙ 111 countries have adopted freedom of information laws & policies, at least 15 of them in the past 4 years
CURRENT HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES:
∙ Global multilateral frameworks for peace and human rights are increasingly under threat.
∙ Climate change: a threat to the right to life, food, water & housing.
∙ Right to work: emerging problems of automation and challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
∙ Inequality: global, national, and urban inequalities regarding such factors like gender, socioeconomic status, race, and others.
∙ Women and gender: issues such as sexual assault, rape, exploitation, violence against women, and pay gaps.
∙ Freedom of Expression: complications in the internet age
∙ Migrants and refugees: growing global migrant crisis.
∙ Democracy: under threat around the world.
The UDHR has also spawned many other important international treaties, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (179 states); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (189); the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (196); and the United Nations Convention Against Torture (162).
The UDHR continues to inspire new treaties. One of the most recent, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is also one of the most rapidly ratified, with 175 states signing onto it in its first decade, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which entered into force in 2010, has so far been ratified by 58 nations. (THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS 70TH ANNIVERSARY)
Thank you, Eleanor T. Roosevelt, for your tireless work to the end of your life for the implementation of the Declaration of Human Rights.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
We should all heed Eleanor’s words. We Know that It Takes A Woman to Make Change.