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International Human Rights Day: Realizing Human Rights Through Friendship and Compassion

December 10, 2015

th, we honour the achievement of global consensus that remains as relevant and important today as it was in 1948– Human Rights Day. Canadian John P. Humphrey prepared the first preliminary draft of what was to become the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s important to both celebrate and reflect on the universal recognition of the“equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family…”.

Human rights can seem like lofty and abstract concepts yet the Declaration itself reminds us what the pursuit and acheivement of human rights is really all about. It begins by referring to the human family and as members of that family, we all have obligations and responsibilities. Human rights beyond legal constructs demand compassion and concern for the lives of individuals and the well-being of communities. Human rights concepts are important tools embraced by diverse groups all over the world and relied upon in the struggle to promote peace, cooperation, and intercultural dialogue. The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights points us in the right direction, citing that:

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations…


Today, we do well to remember that friendly relations are needed between nations but also, and maybe even more importantly between communities, neighbours and between all of us. Organizations like Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch (HRW) are part of a vibrant network dedicated to upholding human dignity and advancing the cause of human rights. As regularily cited, human rights violations are experienced by vulnerable peoples including refugees, disabled peoples and children across the globe.

As HRW has highlighted, the segregation and abandonment of children with disabilities is one example of human rights violations with devestating consequences. UNICEF explains that segregating children because of disability violates the rights of the child as a human being. Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Peoples with Disabilities requires governments and authorities to establish services to prevent isolation and community segregation. Resolute advocacy and building understanding for action and protection is needed at all levels. Perhaps one of the most heart-breaking accounts recounted by HRW is their 2014 report Abandoned by the State Violence, Neglect, and Isolation for Children with Disabilities in Russian Orphanages. Researchers documented cases of violence and neglect, and the use of sedatives as a means of control. Cases like this reveal how very far removed we can become from notions of the human family and our call to friendship and compassion around the globe. Documenting such devastating stories and bringing to light human rights abuses is essential to awaken our collective responsibilities. In a recent post, HRW Reseracher, Emina Ćerimović also talks about the institutionalization, segregation and abuse of hundreds of children acoss Serbia. Importantly, she offers insight to the challenges of creating change for the vulnerable and those suffering abuses when others fail to engage or turn away:

People often use the word “disability” alongside words like “tragedy,” “suffering,” or “victim.” So I can understand why many parents worry about upsetting their children. But the fallout from this kind of attitude is huge – and often irreparable.

Remarkably, she offers simple, effective advice:

As I have learned from my own experience, the easiest way to overcome fear and ignorance about disability is to get to know people with disabilities. Through my work at Human Rights Watch, I’ve met so many insightful, funny, caring, real people who happen to have disabilities. Ultimately, people with and without disabilities need to routinely, casually, and naturally interact. That means we should all live in shared neighborhoods, go to the same schools, and work alongside each other. Otherwise, people with disabilities will continue to live in the shadows.


The vision behind the UN Declaration embraces the reality of our shared humanity, our interconnectedness and moreover provides a framework to shape our interactions. In the midst of complex global challenges, the guidance of the Declaration citing our family ties and calling for friendship provides remarkable inspiration and hope in the acheivement of a better life for vulnerable peoples throughout the world.