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IMPULSES | 75 years of upholding human rights

By Herman M. Lagon

FROM the turmoil of the Middle East to pressing local issues like poverty, insurgencies, and the aftermath of super typhoons like Haiyan, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) remains a signpost of hope. This year, as the 75th anniversary of the UDHR kicks off via the commemoration of the United Nations Day, it reminds the Philippines—a founding member of the United Nations and a proud signatory of the declaration—of its commitment to “Equality, Freedom, and Justice for All.”

Emerging from the ruins of World War II, the UDHR, as noted by Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, serves as a “miraculous text” that underscores every individual’s inalienable rights. At the heart of this declaration lies the principle that every Filipino, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or social status, deserves fairness, respect, and a voice that can be heard without fear of repression. Such values, which include freedom of expression, the right to education, and women’s empowerment, are deeply enshrined in the Philippine constitution and the country’s socio-political fabric.

However, the journey to uphold these rights has been rife with obstacles. Challenges persist while the Philippines has made significant strides, especially in empowering women and indigenous communities. The ongoing effects of climate change, various health crises, economic vulnerabilities, misinformation campaigns, large-scale corruption, extrajudicial killings, civil and territorial wars, ideological extremisms, and concerns over the rise of traditional, dictatorial, and gutter politics necessitate a renewed focus on the UDHR’s principles.

The UDHR’s resilience shines brightest in these testing times. As Türk suggests, the document’s ethos is a bridge to peace, understanding, and sustainable growth. This 75th anniversary is not just a reflection of the past but a call to action—to bolster the nation’s commitment to human rights and social justice.

Efforts such as UDHR 75 resonate deeply in the Philippine context, given the nation’s history of activism on various fronts, from social justice and LGBTQI+ rights to environmental preservation and education. Digital campaigns and initiatives aim to foster dialogue, increase awareness, and strengthen collective responsibility.

Given the Philippines’ foundational role in the United Nations since 1945 and its active participation in various peacekeeping operations and sustainable development initiatives, the significance of the UDHR anniversary is profound. The UN’s enduring partnership with the country has been instrumental in addressing the nation’s sustainable development, peacebuilding, and humanitarian objectives. From the Sendai Framework negotiations to the landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law, the nation’s collaborative efforts with the UN embody the UDHR’s spirit.

As the country marks this significant milestone, it is essential to remember that the UDHR’s strength lies not just in its written words but in its legacy—a legacy that every Filipino is a part of. Through collective efforts and persistent advocacy for democracy, decency, truth, social justice, and the rule of law, the Philippines can inch closer to a society that truly embodies “Equality, Freedom, and Justice for All.”

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(Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.)

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