Building bridges instead of walls: Why celebrating Human Rights Day in 2017 is more important than ever


By Uladzimir Dzenisevich
Human rights have not been high on world leaders’ agenda lately. Wars, ethnic cleansings, refugee crises, widespread crackdown on freedoms and liberties, crushing of dissent in politics and media have dominated headlines globally this year.
Coupled with the rise of isolationist authoritarian regimes and the far-right movements bent on advancing nativist, oppressive and, quite often, outright racist agenda, this paints a rather bleak picture of the world as we are preparing to leave 2017 behind.
The world is changing, and humanism struggles to find its place in it. Tectonic shifts in global affairs made the governments change their priorities. Democracy is traded for “stability”, strong hand for pluralism, and bridges for walls.
Inside their own borders, governments increasingly feel at ease with profiling, persecuting, and prosecuting their own citizens on racial, religious, political, and ideological grounds, while subverting human rights institutions and the civil society.
There is a lingering sense of déjà vu in the air: we have been here before, and last time round humanity was marched into a slaughter where more than 80 million perished. It is the history of World War II and the decade preceding it that should inform our understanding of zeitgeist of today.
But even more importantly, we should remember the aftermath of the War. Humanity seemed to have learnt the lesson and pledged to “never again!”.
Best legal and political minds were put to work and designed systems, regimes, and institutions to prevent the history from repeating itself. It is our duty to ensure that the age of prosperity and peace that followed does not come to an abrupt and tragic end.
Every year, December 10 marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 and is celebrated globally as Human Rights Day. UDHR is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. For the first time ever, human rights and fundamental freedoms were defined in international law.
For the first time ever, rule of law was recognised as defining principle guiding social and political life. For the first time ever, international law recognised every individual as having inalienable rights vis-à-vis their governments, protected by legal regime that transcends national borders.
In 2017, it is more important than ever to celebrate Human Rights Day. When the language of universalism recedes from public life with every political speech, we need to reaffirm the universality of human rights, honour commitments made in UDHR, and stand up for what is right. When divide et Impera reigns supreme, we must not let be divided.
The 2017 Human Rights Day should become an opportunity to forge alliances and foster solidarity between human rights activists and civil society organisations worldwide.
They want us gone? No pasarán!