Archived News Item

Declaration of human rights turns 60

As International Human Rights Day (December 10) approaches, readers are called to reflect on the rights and obligations of each individual. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the theme is “dignity and justice for all of us”.

Human Rights Day
December 10, 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the theme this year is “Dignity and justice for all of us”. (For more information visit the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN events page).

The UDHR is a living document that matters not only in times of conflict and in societies suffering repression, but also in addressing social injustice and achieving human dignity in times of peace in established democracies. Non-discrimination, equality and fairness – key components of justice – form the foundation of the UDHR. And no matter where you live, how much money you have, what faith you practice or political views you hold, all the human rights in the Declaration apply to you, everywhere, always.

Human rights are about recognising and respecting the inherent value and dignity of all people. Human rights entail both rights and obligations.

Human rights principles are contained in internationally agreed human rights standards.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is responsible for promoting and encouraging protection of human rights in Australia.

In the opening message of the 2008 Social Justice Sunday Statement, Bishop Christopher Saunders asks: “What values characterise our daily lives?” Do we recognise those in need and our obligation to do something about it? The Statement continues to challenge each of us “to hear the voice of the poor and to act with generous hearts”.


  • How do I show respect to all human beings?
  • Do I witness an acknowledgment of the dignity of friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, retail workers, car drivers and public transport users?
  • How do I respond to people seeking a safe place to live in Australia, especially when others have so severely abused their human rights?

Human Rights and Climate Change
It is clear that climate change has an impact on human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Council has expressed concern that climate change “poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the word” and has requested a report on the issue. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner, Human Rights Climate Change

Pacific Calling Partnership
A few years ago some communities in low-lying islands in the Pacific, including the Diocese of Kirabati, asked communities in high green-house gas producing countries to acknowledge the effect on them by climate change and respond appropriately as individuals and governments.


  • How do I show respect to all human beings?
  • What has been my response to this urgent call by our island neighbours in the last few years?
  • Have I urged the Australian government to respond and to make significant cuts to greenhouse emissions?
  • Have I told the government that I want a migration plan developed for the future to assist the environmentally displaced people (climate refugees) from the Pacific and Torres Strait islands?

If you want assistance to lobby your politician about this issue, Friends of the Earth have an online petition. Follow this link.

Homelessness is a Human Rights Issue
Addressing homelessness requires a comprehensive and integrated approach that takes into account its many and varied causes and effects. At all times the dignity of homeless people must be respected and they should be invited to engage in ways to address the issue.

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up only 2% of Australia’s population, they represent 9% of the total homeless population and 19% of people in improvised housing. Indigenous communities in all areas of Australia endure housing conditions well below those of the general population.

Statistics suggest that as much as 42% of the homeless population in Australia is female. Homeless women tend to remain out of sight, away from areas where homeless people congregate, for fear of violence, rape or other abuse.


  • How do I show respect to all human beings?
  • There are many services working to address this issue, including ministries of the Sisters of Mercy If you have energy, time and skills that could be of assistance, would you consider offering your services to an organisation?

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
It is expected that with recent increases in food prices, that 1 billion people will go hungry, while another 2 billion will be undernourished.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
At present, less than 55% of children of the appropriate age in developing countries attend secondary school. In Oceania, for instance, almost two thirds of children of secondary school age are out of school.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Lack of access to water and sanitation has a major impact on women and girls. Women and girls in many parts of the world are forced to spend large parts of their day fetching water, and children, especially girls, often do not attend school because their schools lack private and decent sanitation facilities.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
In 2006, for the first time since mortality data have been gathered, annual deaths among children under five dipped below 10 million, to 9.7 million. This represents a 60% drop in the rate of child mortality since 1960.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Estimates for 2005 show that, every minute, a woman dies of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. This adds up to more than 500,000 women annually and 10 million over a generation. Almost all of these women, 99%, live and die in developing countries.

Goal 6: Combat HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Every day, nearly 7,500 people are infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS. Globally, an estimated 33 million people were living with HIV-AIDS in 2007. Malaria kills over 1 million people annually, 80% of whom are children under five in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration, official development assistance for health has more than doubled, from $6.8 billion in 2000 to $16.7 billion in 2006.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Some 1.6 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water since 1990. At this rate, the world is expected to meet the MDG target on drinking water. But about 1 billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion lack access to basic sanitation services. Currently, only 22% of the world’s fisheries are sustainable, compared to 40% in 1975. The rate of deforestation has been fastest in some of the world’s most biologically diverse regions and old growth forest ecosystems, including South-East Asia, Oceania, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that the cost of closing the gap between current trends and target trends for achieving the Goal 7 targets on water and sanitation, based on low-cost, sustainable technologies, is at least $10 billion per year.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
Mozambique used its debt service savings to vaccinate one million children against tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria, to fight AIDS, and to build and provide electricity in schools.


  • In light of the above, how do I show respect to all human beings?
  • What action can I take to ensure addressing the Millennium Development Goals stays on the government and public agenda?

Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here.

Human Rights Explained Fact Sheets:
1. Defining Human Rights
2. Human Rights Origins
3. Human Rights Philosophies
4. The Emergence of Rights in Law
5. The International Bill of Rights
6. How States Commit to Human Rights Treaties
7. Australia and Human Rights Treaties
8. Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in the UN System

Contact: Carmel Heagerty RSM, Institute Justice Co-ordinator