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70 years of Human Rights: A milestone to celebrate?

Laurence Wilkinson

Posted: 16 November 2018

"Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?" Malachi 2:10 (NIV)

"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." Psalm 82:3-4 (NIV)

The Origins

10 December 2018 will mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations officially adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Drafted in the aftermath of World War II, as the most unspeakable atrocities had come to light, world leaders came together to say "never again" with one clear voice. Generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law, the UDHR contains powerful statements that were revolutionary for many parts of that still war-shattered world, and continue to be revolutionary today.

The Declaration recognises the most fundamental rights, including the right to life, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It recognizes the family as the 'natural and fundamental group unit of society', and declares that parents have a 'prior right' to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

The Bible frequently reiterates that we are all made in the image and likeness of Christ – a concept we can see reflected in the opening words of the UDHR preamble which declares:

Whereas 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.

Human Rights Today

In the 70 years since the UDHR was adopted, it is apparent that some of the most fundamental aspects of the UDHR are being ignored by governments around the world.

Take for example six year-old Ruben. Members of the ADF International team had the privilege of meeting him earlier this year. He lives in the Indian state of Madyha Pradesh, and is the only member of his family who can see as his mother and father have been blind since birth. Hardship is a fact of life for Ruben and his family, but it became much harder when they were holding a meeting at their church some months ago. An angry mob stormed the church, assaulting the worshippers. The pastor – Ruben's father – was dragged to the police station, along with Ruben and his mother. There, they were stripped, beaten repeatedly, and kept in jail for three days before being released on bail.

Sadly, Ruben's story is not an isolated incident in the region. There is a growing group seeking to purge India of all non-Hindu religions. India faces some of the fiercest restrictions on religious freedom in the world, even though the UDHR aims to establish the equal protection of all by guaranteeing freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

And yet in other areas, human rights have been misrepresented, distorted or abused to serve purposes that were not envisioned by the drafters of the Declaration.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee recently adopted General Comment 36 on the right to life which, paradoxically, seeks to undermine protection for the right to life of unborn children contrary to the clear position in international law. An earlier draft of the General Comment had gone as far as affirming the "right to die" within the text, but this was ultimately withdrawn in the wake of strong objection and criticism from governments and civil society.

There are also many examples of human rights being 'weaponised' to coerce individuals to undertake activity or celebrate causes with which they fundamentally disagree. While it could be as simple as the display of a poster or the wearing of a lanyard, where seemingly innocuous initiatives are ordered rather than offered, it goes against the recognition of the inherent dignity and conscience of each individual that features so prominently throughout the UDHR.

This was recognised very recently in the Ashers Bakery Case, where a Christian bakery was embroiled in litigation right up to the Supreme Court for declining to print a message on a cake that read "Support Gay Marriage". In finding that the bakery owners had not unlawfully engaged in discrimination by declining the order, the President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, recognised that: "it does the project of equal treatment no favours to seek to extend it beyond its proper scope."

A Higher Calling?

The reality is that human rights do not make sense in a vacuum. As Christians, our understanding of human rights is best informed by our belief in God, who endowed us with dignity, who loves us, cares for us and even laid down his own 'rights' to became one of us. The Bible consistently charges us to sacrificially love others ahead of ourselves, and be a voice for the voiceless.

While the UDHR is aspirational on many levels, we are ultimately called to a higher standard as believers in Christ. However, we can still rally behind much of the foundational language and intention of the UDHR in advocating for the upholding of basic, fundamental freedoms, and speaking up for the oppressed and the vulnerable.

Our response

Pray: For those who are persecuted for their faith across the world – for their safety, for peace, and for justice.

Take Action: ADF International has written The Geneva Statement to urge the United Nations and its Member States to recommit to the vision so clearly articulated and adopted 70 years ago. It seeks a reaffirmation of the fundamental understanding that human rights are based on the inherent dignity of each and every person.

Consider adding your signature to The Geneva Statement at www.ImHumanRight.org and making your voice heard by standing up for Christians and other religious minorities facing persecution around the world, protecting rights of conscience for those who act according to their beliefs, and defending the right to life for the most vulnerable in our society. In December, ADF International will present The Geneva Statement at an event at the United Nations in New York, urging the UN and the international community to recommit to the vision of the UDHR and to ensure that everyone's human rights are protected.

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