International Human Rights Day: “Reaffirming our Common Humanity”

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Today, on December 10th, the world comes together to celebrate Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this day, everyone is encouraged to stand up for those who are experiencing human rights abuses around the world. As Zeid Ra’ad, High Commissioner for Human Rights stated, “It is a time for each of us to step up for human rights. There is no action that is too small: wherever you are, you can make a difference”.

Human rights concepts are important tools embraced by diverse groups all over the world and are relied upon in the struggle to promote peace, cooperation, and intercultural dialogue. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), use these concepts to inform all of their work – dedicating their activities to upholding human dignity and advancing the cause of human rights.

This past summer, HRW released a report that highlighted the jarring experience of children with disabilities in Serbia. In the report they noted that “hundreds of Serbian children with disabilities face neglect and isolation in institutions that may lead to stunted intellectual, emotional, and physical development”. While the government is making progress in working toward the protection of these children, HRW asserts that they still have a long way to go.

In an article written for the Huffington Post, Institutionalize and Isolated: How Serbia is Failing Children with Disabilities, Kim Samuel echoes this message. In her piece she states, “Most of all, I remember my shock upon learning that, while this institution was considered an orphanage, the majority of institutionalized children with disabilities in Serbia have at least one living parent. No child benefits from growing up in an institution. No child deserves to be shut away. And yet, this “orphanage” was full of children who had families of their own.”

The lack of commitment from the government to ensuring that these children have their rights protected results in overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and isolation. However, it is dedications such as Human Rights Day, which implore us not only to recognize these violations, but to act upon them so that we may promote the well-being and dignity of all.

Speaking to dignity of all, Human Rights Watch released a dispatch on December 1st highlighting the importance of restoring dignity in disability within South Africa in response to the closure of Esidimeni, a psychiatric complex. As the government prepares to continue closing similar institutions it has been suggested they learn from lessons encountered with Esidimeni, “that the road to deinstitutionalisation requires robust community-based services, with people with disabilities and their families involved at every step” bringing light to the concept of working with not for in relation to coming up with solutions. In addition to this, Human Rights Watch released on December 9th another dispatch bringing light to the importance of uniting to end violence against women with disabilities in correlation with the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. There is a call in India to end the many forms of violence against women, including abuses in mental health institutions.  Disabled persons’ organizations across India are joining forces to create a network of women with disabilities, “giving these women a platform and voice to advocate for their rights”.

It starts with each of us. Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence. We must join forces and connect with one another to enact change. “We must reaffirm our common humanity.”