On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations has sought to remind the world that the human rights to food and wellbeing are as important as freedoms of expression and worship.
Noting severe lapses by governments in implementing the human rights standards described in the Universal Declaration, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva said: “Lately, this has been compounded by the ongoing global financial crisis that has sent millions of people falling into poverty.”
Almost a billion people go hungry each day after food price rises pushed 40 million more vulnerable people around the world into the ranks of the under-nourished, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported on the eve of the UDHR’s 60th anniversary.
“We are still, 60 years on, a very long way from achieving the goals laid down in the Universal Declaration. No country in the world can sit back complacently and say, ‘We’re there,’” the UN human rights office said.
According to the FAO, although food prices have more than halved from their historic peak a few months ago, the cost of basic staples measured by an FAO index remains high: 28% higher on average than it was two years ago. That has increased the number of people unable to afford to eat enough calories to lead a normal, active life.
There are now estimated to be 963 million people, 14% of the world’s population, going hungry as the year 2008 draws to a close.
The UN human rights office added that several million people around the world are not even aware that they have rights that they can demand from their governments -- an intrinsic part of the UDHR, which was hammered out by a team of US participants led by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt after World War II.
Human rights, along with development and security, are the three pillars upon which the UN has built its activities since its birth, in 1945. The Universal Declaration came into force on December 10, 1948, in Paris, and represents the first comprehensive agreement among nations that outlined the specific rights and freedoms of all human beings. The principles of the UDHR have been reflected in the constitutions and laws of more than 90 countries.
“Despite all our efforts over the past 60 years, this anniversary will pass many people by, and it is essential that we keep up the momentum, thereby enabling more and more people to stand up and claim their rights,” it said.
The UN, backed by advocacy groups, has held year-long conferences to re-energise efforts to implement the UDHR. Upholding human rights has been considered the most effective way of preventing another Holocaust and providing an international mechanism for protecting the poor, the marginalised, migrant workers and refugees.
The UN has declared 2009 ‘International Year for Human Rights Learning’, in an effort to capitalise on efforts to push for greater implementation of the declaration. The 192-nation General Assembly will honour six people, two posthumously, with its UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2008.
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