Being a human rights champion starts by standing up — and learning history.

That’s the message advocates, philanthropists, policymakers and citizens of all stripes should consider as we honor Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

Back in 1948, while still processing the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII, a committee of world leaders — chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt — gathered in Paris to draft the UDHR: a set of 30 indivisible principles that each nation should strive towards in granting all humans equal freedoms. Articles set forth covered freedom of discrimination, freedom from torture, right to privacy, right to asylum and many more basic ideals for a democratic, civil society. At the time he submitted the final draft to the UN General Assembly, Haitian delegate Emile Saint-Lot, a descendant of slaves, said the document was “the greatest effort yet made by mankind to give society new legal and moral foundations.”

How far have we come since? Some facts to consider:

  • UDHR holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the most translated document in the world, with 500 translations, ranging from Abkhaz to Zulu.
  • 18 treaties and optional protocols advancing human rights have been agreed since 1948.
  • 198 countries now allow women the right to vote, compared to 91 countries in 1948.
  • 104 countries have now outlawed capital punishment, compared to only 9 in 1948.
  • 57 percent of countries have a national human rights institution today.
  • 111 countries have adopted freedom of information laws and policies, at least 15 of them in the past four years.

But the work is far from over. We know that millions of people are displaced due to wars and famine around the world; 1 in 10 children worldwide have been forced into child labor; more than 150 journalists have been killed over the past two years (including the high-profile Jamal Khashoggi case); and 1 in 3 people are being imprisoned without trial.

Now’s the time to live up to the principles set in writing 70 years ago. Here’s some guidance to get you started.


How the International Community Protects Human Rights Defenders
Global Washington

Since the 1998 adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, roughly 3,500 human rights activists worldwide have been killed. Here, Global Washington discusses the threats and challenges human rights defenders face — and how the international community is providing support.

Securing Land, Labor and Rights for Adivasi People in India
IDR Review

At 67, activist Xavier Dias has spent most of his adult life working closely with India’s Adivasis people, helping them secure and safeguard their land, labor, and human rights, and raise their political consciousness. Discover more about his work.

How Can We Quiet the Eruptions Across the World?
Thousand Currents

Everyday, another one comes —  the continued atrocities, attacks, threats, and distractions offered up daily, hourly by despotic leaders around the world. Media bombardment makes us feel like the eruptions are constant. But the eruptions are really connected — and we must listen carefully in order to confront them fully.

The Path to Strengthening Human Rights and Challenging Inequality
Ford Foundation

Martín Abregú, Vice President, Democracy, Justice, and Free Expression of the Ford Foundation, describes the organization’s efforts in this field: a complex mix of continuity and disruption. What can others learn?


Life Skills Education Helps Young People In Rural India

Over the past two decades, the Institute of Health Management Pachod has reached out to about 50,000 adolescent girls through its Life Skills Education (LSE) courses: after-school sessions focused on topics such has self identity, government schemes, communication skills, personal hygiene, child marriage and early pregnancy. The outcomes have been significant.

How Donors Can Make an Impact on Human Trafficking
Giving Compass

Those who lead on human trafficking issues emphasize the importance of taking a prevention approach: advancing human rights around the world to prevent trafficking in human lives. If you want to connect with those leading on this issue, look to Humanity United, the NOVO Foundation, and NEO Philanthropy.

Building a Vision for the Future We Want: A Social Justice Discussion
Neighborhood Funders Group

Funders for Justice (FFJ) interviewed Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, about how to move forward in 2018 with movements that garner support for social justice and transformation.

How Bystander Footage Can Help Protect Human Rights
The Atlantic

Yvette Alberdingk Thijm of the activist group WITNESS talks about how real-time video taken by citizens can expose human rights violations effectively. Spreading awareness about this practice and elevating evidence on social media can go a long way in shedding light on abuses.

Take Action

What Can We Do About the Genocide in Myanmar?
Giving Compass

Since 1982, the rights of Rohingya in Myanmar have been reduced several times, causing wave after wave of refugees to flee the country. Political and physical violence have worked hand in hand to force the Rohingya out of their country. Spread the word, lend your voice and find out where to donate.

Ways to Measure Impact in Human Rights Efforts
Skoll Foundation

In the human rights space, questions around subjectivity, contribution vs. attribution, confidentiality, and time horizons combine with the hairiness of politics, invisible influencers such as belief systems and cultural norms, and the capricious non-linear nature of social sector problem-solving.

Details on The Uphold Human Rights Fund
Bright Funds

This is a curated selection of six nonprofits (in the U.S. and around the world) working to ensure that every person is guaranteed the rights inherent to all. Organizations include Equality Now, Inc., Polaris Project and Center for Victims of Torture.

(Top photo courtesy of the United Nations' #StandUp4HumanRights campaign.)