Violence Prevention Grey Bruce

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Universal Human Rights Require Collective Action

2020 has been a polarizing year in many ways. As conflicts simmered or ignited in our communities and in communities around the world, parties on many sides of many disagreements invoked their ‘rights’. December 10th is International Human Rights Day and today it is as important as ever to consider what rights we hold to be universal and how many have still not been realized.

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The declaration lays out 30 articles and was intended to articulate the rights of every human being. Its spirit is rooted in the belief that all human beings are equal, that human rights prevent violence and provide stability, and that rights must be supported by communities and structures. In many ways, we are still working towards the world that the authors imagined.

The rights enshrined in the declaration are not yet universal. Not even in Canada or in Grey and Bruce counties. In our own communities, people continue to experience forms of slavery (Article 4) or discrimination based on “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (Article 2).

Many of our neighbours work for wages too low to provide “an existence worthy of human dignity” (Article 23) or lack access to “to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control” (Article 25).

Human rights as laid out in the Universal Declaration require collective vision and effort. Those rights require systems and structures to support them. Which makes sense. When a situation, individual, or group undermines the rights of another by force or instability, it takes a collective response to both intervene and prevent the conditions of exploitation from emerging again.

The many crises of 2020 have reduced the safety and dignity of many people. In response to these crises we have also seen individuals and organizations rally to support the rights of others. National and local support programs worked to make sure that people did not suffer and starve. They were supporting universal rights in the process.

As we approach the holiday season nine months into a pandemic, those organizations are increasingly stretched and essential. They are supporting the rights of people in our community to be free from suffering and free to access stability, dignity, and the building blocks of a fully realized human life.

After more than 70 years, we have still not managed to create the world that the Universal Declaration imagines. We are, however, closer to it every time that discrimination is challenged, the hungry are fed, workers’ rights are supported, voters are enfranchised, and children access education. We can support this work every day with our time, energy, and money. 

Especially in this season of giving, we can turn what abundance we have to supporting the dignity and safety of the people around us. Canada Helps is an online platform that makes it easy to provide financial support to Canadian charities doing this work on our behalf.

 That’s the practical work.

But before anyone turns their hands or mind to uplifting or protecting the rights of others, they have to turn their heart to the importance of the task.

 If an individual does not consider the experiences of the people around them, they will never work to improve those other lives. If a person claims to fight for their rights but only cares about their individual “freedom” to act without restriction or consequence, then they have no reason to make the collective compromises that build  into  collective benefits. 

In a community, nation, and world grappling with our unjust history and the systemic barriers we inherited, the work of supporting human rights is essential. International Human Rights Day marks the end of the 16 Days of Activism. It is also an opportunity to rally around the ideals and ideas that promise a safer and more dignified world for every human being.

It is hard work and its the right thing to do.

Jon Farmer is the coordinator of Violence Prevention Grey Bruce.

Help spread this message

We are leading the way to a safer community.

Our shared vision is an inclusive community where all people live their lives free from all forms of violence and oppression, and have equal access to the best of what the community has to offer.

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