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.Damn right. In a way it’s sad that the remaining twenty-nine articles have to exist at all, spelling out that people should not be tortured (Article 4) or enslaved (Article 5), or deprived of employment (Article 23) or leisure (Article 24) or education (Article 26). Shouldn’t this all go without saying? Apparently not; when the nation that prides itself on being the city on the hill and the beacon of hope for the world descends to torture and degradation of human beings for political ends all bets are off.
In many ways a noble document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a couple of anomalies. Consider Article 16 section 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.There is nothing here that any segregationist of the Post-Reconstruction South or strict Roman Catholic could object to; whites are free to marry whites just as coloreds are free to marry coloreds; Baptists are free to marry Baptists just as Roman Catholics are free to marry Roman Catholics, “without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion”. Nobody is stopping African-Americans or Baptists from marrying, so long as they marry within their own kind. As interracial marriage was prohibited in most states of the union at the time the United States voted for the UDHR, this almost has to have been its understanding of this passage.
Or again, consider this from Article 26 section 1:
Elementary education shall be compulsory.I know there’s a story behind this; the idea is to prevent parents or employers from depriving children of an education by exploiting their labor on farms or in factories when they should be in school. My father used to tell of an old farmer in North Powder who saw no reason why his kids should be wasting time in school when they could be doing chores at home. But this seems to me to be a mite on the extreme side. At the very least it seems odd to see anything described as “compulsory” in a list of human rights. And as an ex-homeschooler somewhat in the tradition of Neill and Holt, I find this concept a trifle troubling. There’s something akin to slavery in it, seems like.
But on the whole the UDHR favors good things—equality before the law (7), equal pay for equal work (23), the right to privacy (12), freedom of thought (including the “freedom to change his religion or belief”) (18), freedom of opinion and expression (19), freedom of movement (13), the right to an adequate standard of living (25), the right to enjoy and arts and share in scientific advancement (27), and so on. It lies squarely in the tradition represented by classic US documents like The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
If there’s a single document that spells out the meaning of the season in practical terms, this is it. It was supported in 1948 by states as disparate as Afghanistan and Mexico, Egypt and Thailand, Syria and the United States, Iceland and Turkey. No one voted against it, though a handful of states (including unsurprisingly Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, and the then-segregated Union of South Africa) abstained from voting.
The UDHR is said to be the most-translated document in the world, having been put into more than 300 languages. (The “complete” Bible [minus the Apocrypha / Deuterocanonical works] has been translated into 438 languages according to the United Bible Society, however. Parts of the Bible have been translated into many more.) It is probably the most generally accepted statement of basic rights anywhere ever (and my Wikipedia editing experience immediately pops up with “citation needed”.) Oh, yeah, there are critics out there, especially among the states committed to a single religious tradition, Islamic states being the noisiest current offenders. Consider the Cairo Declaration version of religious liberty (Article 10) as a contrast:
Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.How degraded is that? The filth of that document makes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stand out all the more brightly, holiday lights in the darkness of winter ignorance.