Today we celebrate the 64th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This monumental document inspired millions of people across the globe who fought and continue to fight for the simple but powerful idea that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
While not a legally binding document, the UDHR has become a powerful instrument of moral force used universally to assert and protect a broad spectrum of fundamental rights and freedoms including economic, civil, social, political, and cultural rights of all people without any distinction or discrimination. The UDHR was also the inspirational foundation for the adoption of ten subsequent international human right instruments that cover specific areas including civil and political rights (ICCPR); economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR); racial discrimination (CERD); discrimination against women (CEDAW); torture (CAT); children’s rights (CRC); migrant workers (ICRMW); protection against enforced disappearance (CPED); and disability rights (CRPD).
The U.S. undoubtedly continues to provide global leadership on some human rights issues. For example, the current administration has been actively engaging international bodies and was recently re-elected to the Human Rights Council, providing vigorous leadership in the fight for LGBT and gender equality as well as championing internet and religious freedom, free speech and assembly rights.
But while some U.S. laws and policies have been comparatively advanced in protecting civil rights and civil liberties, the U.S. has fallen behind in protecting other universal human rights recognized by the UDHR, especially in the areas of racial discrimination as well ascriminal and economic justice. The U.S. government has only partially and selectively embraced sixty-four-year-old promise and its own current practice. Notably, the United States has fallen short of fully implementing its legal obligations under treaties ratified in the early 1990s - namely, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the and the and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).