because on this date in 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The history is well covered in this Wikipedia article, so I will not recapitulate it.  This page at the UN website provides the text and other information, including the history and the drafters.  As Americans, it is worth our remembering that the chair of the committee that did the drafting was Eleanor Roosevelt.

As today is a school day, I do not have time to offer as thorough a post on the subject as it warrants.  I am even with my very much at risk 7th graders probably going to take a few minutes to explore the document in class, so I thought I might take just a little time to remind us all of a few of its 30 articles.

For example,  

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

In light of recent issues in our own nation, I fail to see how someone who is gay, bi, or transgendered is not included in the protections offered by this first Article.  It is unfortunate that that is not made explicit as well here:  
Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Please keep reading.

Let me touch on just a few more that should be relevant given the recent history of our own nation.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

  It is not just the depredations perpetrated by the previous administration that violate this, but also the continued mistreatment of Bradley Manning.
Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Our own Constitution makes no distinction between citizens and other persons when it comes to the question of standing before the law, although somehow various Supreme Court decisions seem willing to parse such a distinction.    Our finding justification for holding "enemy combatants" without trial in places like Guantanamo for long periods without legal recourse are a clear violation of the principles of this Declaration.

There are several other articles that similarly address such actions.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Of course, the Declaration did not include gay rights as a protected class given the time, but merely to take the issue of marriage equality, the expansion of the right across much of the Western world even as we wrestle with the question makes clear an understanding that at least in principle it was protected by the principles of the foregoing article.
Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

I do not see how a nation instrumental in drafting the foregoing Article can ever rationalize the kinds of voter suppression that have for far too long been a part of our political landscape and which are unfortunately again becoming a tool for political control in some parts of the nation.
Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

We are far behind most of the industrial world in implementation of Article 24.  Reasonable limitation of hours is only possible with realistic and livable wages.  The idea of paid holidays somehow is ignored in the hiring policies of far too many organizations which find legal loopholes to avoid provision of these or any other benefits.  Read in conjunction with this Article 23, with its affirmation of equal pay for equal work (so why was the Lily Ledbetter Act necessary in 2009?) and the right to unionization.
Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right 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.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Rea the first part of Article 25 carefully, and consider how poorly we have done on many of those basic needs, and how we are yet again allowing consideration of rolling back what little we do provide in the names of financial responsibility in our negotiations over the misnamed fiscal cliff.

Finally, and this should not surprise you given the author of this post, some examination of this:  

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Higher education is not equally accessible if it is not affordable.  Many nations have provided it at no cost to the students who qualify.

Education should NOT have as its primary motivation economic interest.  Note carefully:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality

It is unfortunate that the direction of our national educational policy has for too long ignored this.

As for furthering the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace I have two words:  BLACK HELICOPTERS>

This has been a brief examination of an important international document, one that has been amplified on several occasions with additional language, and which is considered by many scholars to be an essential part of current international law.

I wonder what the impact would be were we to require instruction in and knowledge of this document in our educational standards, whether in K-12 education and/or as a requirement for graduation from law school?

Perhaps if more people understood that this document was created precisely because of the horror of the crimes of Nazi Germany as they became more fully understood in the aftermath of World War II we might take them more seriously?

Then again, our idea of American Exceptionalism might cause us still to ignore them, despite the fact that the ideas contained therein were very much American in origin.  After all, didn't the US Senate just refuse to ratify an international agreement based on our Americans with Disabilities Act?

Here ends my too brief examination.

I did not feel I could let the occasion go unnoticed, even with a very tight schedule this morning.


Your Email has been sent.