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2008: Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Introduction

Sixty years ago, nations of the world joined together in recognizing that all peoples, in all nations, are free and equal regardless of race, religion, economic status, age, gender or other personal characteristics. Through the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations brought into being the first international document recognizing human rights as the foundation of peace, justice and freedom in the world.

The Universal Declaration outlines 30 basic rights essential for all human beings to achieve their full potential and to live a life free of fear and want. It was a unique approach that developed from the world saying 'never again' to the horrific events of World War Two, a war that brought a scale of atrocity never previously witnessed. The global death count is estimated to have been more than 50 million. War crimes were widespread: from the infamous Holocaust in which Nazi Germany sought to eliminate 'undesirables' such as Jews, Poles, Slavs, Roma, Sinti, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals and other persons, to the use of sex slaves, otherwise known as 'comfort women', by Japanese soldiers. Labour camps were used throughout the world and, disturbingly, World War Two brought the first testing of biological warfare by Japan and the use of atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the United States of America. Read more...

Building a Peaceful World

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The UN was created with the intention of preventing future world wars and atrocities, yet international and civil conflicts persist today. Armed conflict affects the lives of many in countries around the world, and in a post-9/11 atmosphere the issue of security has dominated media headlines and governments' agendas alike. People feel less safe, which leads to more measures being put in place to reduce insecurity.

Here in Canada, current security issues include the treatment of Muslims after 9/11; the controversy over security certificates; and Canada's role in peace building in Afghanistan. Articles 2 and 18 of the Universal Declaration state that everyone is entitled to the specified rights regardless of her or his religion and that everyone has the right to choose his or her religion. Yet since 9/11, some Muslim Canadians have been subjected to suspicion and, along with Jewish Canadians, have experienced increased hostility and discrimination by the public.

Globally, heightened fear has resulted in the indefinite imprisonment of suspected terrorists without trial. This is contrary to Articles 9 and 5 which forbid arbitrary detention and cruel treatment. Security certificates allow government officials to detain and in some cases deport non-Canadian citizens deemed "national threats" to their home countries where they could be at risk of being tortured. Detailed allegations and evidence are kept secret from the public and even from the accused "for security purposes".

Globalization means that we are becoming more and more interconnected with communities worldwide. This means that we have a responsibility to ensure that peace and human rights are enjoyed not only locally, but also internationally. Abroad, Canada is involved in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Canada, along with other countries and a host of non-governmental organizations, contributes to humanitarian efforts designed to rebuild the social infrastructure of Afghanistan. Canada's international efforts to address poverty, development and conflict through the Canadian International Development Agency, for example, contribute to our image as a peacekeeping country.

Peace and security, however, do not only involve global issues or relate to post 9/11. Within countries, various forms of violence and conflict cause challenges to populations and compromise human rights. In Canada, domestic and gang violence, bullying, discrimination and hate crimes also inhibit the right of people to "life, liberty and security of person". For instance, many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth face the fear of aggression from peers. Defamatory actions against minorities fundamentally contradict the security of many individuals in our communities.

The United Nations, through UNESCO, recognizes the value of peace as a fundamental human right. 2001-2010 marked the International Decade for a Culture of Peace, and ongoing work continues to advance the eight key pillars of a culture of peace. Visit their website to learn more and find out how youth can play a part.

It is up to all of us to speak out against violence in our communities and around the world. Take a stand against bullying, take the time to listen to and understand others, and say no to violence. For all of us to enjoy our human rights, we need to respect the rights and value of others.

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Related International Human Rights Documents