Recently on social media, I read on a digital poster that said “If the rights I have are not for others, then they are not rights, they are privileges.” The statement motivates me to share some thoughts on the 73rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As we know, International Human Rights Day is commemorated because of the Universal Declaration that was presented to the world on December 10, 1948 by the United Nations. It was aimed at overcoming the atrocities experienced during the two world wars. Its purpose: to universally protect rights based on dignity, freedom and equity. Seventy-three years have passed and much water has flowed under the bridge. The Declaration has met with setbacks and indifference, but progress has been made.
Although the Declaration is not mandatory for the Member States, many of them have incorporated it into their Constitutions. It is an important step forward from a legal point of view; and it deserves to be extended to the cultural, social and economic fields.
Globally, there are serious concerns that make us alert to question the real respect for what is contained in the Universal Declaration. Topics include forced migrations, racism, the situation of women, indigenous peoples and LGTBIQ communities… But there is one in particular concern that warrants the urgent response of all of us: environmental rights and the care of our “common home,” Mother Earth or Pachamama. A guiding message that calls us to reflection and action is Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, which calls us to be aware of the challenging cries of the people and of the earth. Francis also speaks to us about the importance of holding in high regard the Three T’s (in Spanish): Housing (Techo), Work (Trabajo) and Land (Tierra), fundamental elements for the realization of Human Rights.
In regard to economic, social and cultural rights, the current situation of inequality is shocking. The greatest wealth inequality is found in Latin America according to research conducted by the World Inequality Lab (WIL), which has just launched its World Inequality Report 2022. The top 10% have 77% of the accumulated wealth; the middle 40% have 22% and the poorest 50% have 1%. The greatest inequality is manifested in government systems based on certain ideologies that do not favor rights. One example is the response to the COVID 19 pandemic, which has shown us how we are doing in terms of health, education and employment.
We must not lose hope. Let us keep in mind that Human Rights are the “utopian mobilizer” to uphold the life of all as a path to justice and peace. We must appreciate the ancestral knowledge of indigenous peoples for the protection of the earth and work for a new socio-economic system that takes into account the rights of all people and Mother Earth.
Another world is possible. Although there is greater awareness of rights, the road to reach them is not easy. We must continue to build the road because the path is made by walking, as the poet Antonio Machado used to say.
Víctor Mendoza Barrantes
Social Justice Commission-Diocese of Chimbote, Peru
International JPIC-CCVI Committee