Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The Musical

Yesterday, we collectively said happy birthday to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Okay, that's probably not strictly true. I'll go out on a limb and say that many Americans probably have absolutely no idea what the UDHR is and have never read it, much less celebrated its birthday. That being the case, it's time for an introduction.

The UDHR has influenced constitutions around the world and made its way into countless other documents. It forms the basis for much of the modern human rights movement. You should check it out. It's not too long, but if you'd rather watch it in film format, here you have it, courtesy of the Human Rights Action Center.

There are times when I'm fairly cynical about international human rights law. Bad things happen everywhere, and articles like this one show us how toothless it still is. On the other hand, it has huge normative value. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, puts it nicely:

"...the last thing I'm going to do, though, is run away with the idea that the UDHR is the panacea for the world's ills. The unpleasant reality is that the leaders of countries like North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma and dozens more either hold the UDHR's values in contempt or they cynically pick and choose which to adhere to. But there are grounds for optimism too. Very few countries are nowadays able to dismiss core human rights principles out of hand and literally thousands of people have been released from detention or had ill-treatment stopped as a result of pressure exerted by human rights defenders at home and abroad. "

Without further adieu, here are two organizations' ideas on how to capitalize on the UDHR's birthday yesterday. Witness has launched a video (below) intended to explore how images such as photos or videos inspire us to take action for human rights. If you'd like to post an image that inspired you on their site, click here. Following that below is an amazingly catchy song put together by Amnesty International featuring tons of great international musicians rocking out at the UN General Assembly (doesn't hurt that it also has an introduction by the always bad-ass Laurence Fishburne). You can even buy the song on iTunes and all profits benefit Amnesty.


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