60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights
At the outset of this anniversary year, we wish to affirm the unparalleled and enduring significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The adoption of this Declaration on December 10th, 1948 marked one of the first collective expressions of an international community. With no dissenting votes, the fifty-six member states of the United Nations, from all regions, affirmed the inherent dignity of the human being, the rule of law over the rule of force, and placed the well-being of the individual at the center of international law. The moral terrain of international relations was redrawn. To date, this historic document has inspired over sixty international treaties and conventions, which have acquired increasing authority through incorporation into national legal systems.
As economic disparities, violence, prejudice and environmental degradation wreak havoc on the world’s population, attention is gradually turning to the responsibilities of states vis-à-vis the protection and promotion of human rights. These global ills are helping to forge a new consciousness of international responsibility and recasting the concept of sovereignty from inherent right to responsibility. The maturing consciousness of a global community, the development of mechanisms for implementation and monitoring of human rights and the rise of a vibrant civil society in support of these rights, holds promise that a global order capable of upholding the dignity and nobility of the individual will be realized.
As a worldwide religious community, encompassing over 2,000 ethnic groups residing in over 189 countries and territories, we unequivocally affirm the universality of the rights articulated in this Declaration. As the United Nations has repeatedly asserted - all human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, have the duty to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Among these, the right to freedom of conscience, religion, or belief – provided for unconditionally in the Declaration – is fundamental to safeguarding the dignity of the human being. Yet in many parts of the world, the individual’s right to know and to believe is categorically denied. To be human is to search for truth. Without freedom of conscience, without the ability to choose one’s beliefs, to change them and to live them, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to exercise any other rights. For many years, persecuted individuals and communities have sought refuge under the canopy of this right. On the basis of its unambiguous provision for freedom of conscience, religion or belief, Bahá'ís and other religious minorities have benefited from its protection.
Over the years, Bahá'ís have played an active role in promulgating this historic document and the ideas contained therein. Indeed, the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights echo the social and moral principles of the Bahá'í Faith. In 1947, Bahá'ís submitted their recommendations to the newly formed Commission on Human Rights. As the United Nations adopted conventions implementing the Declaration’s articles, Bahá'í communities worldwide translated and disseminated these documents, held public meetings to explain them, and worked for the ratification of various Conventions. On many occasions, Bahá'ís have addressed the United Nations and their respective governments indicating new areas for action and offering concrete proposals for improved implementation of human rights commitments. In 1997, Bahá'ís launched a worldwide Human Rights Education initiative, supporting the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, which guided over 100 national affiliates to strengthen human rights education in their respective countries.
Today, with renewed urgency and vigor, Bahá'ís strive to bring into being the global community envisioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The worldwide Bahá'í community pledges to continue and expand its efforts, and to join with others to eliminate all forms of prejudice, to reduce the extremes of wealth and poverty, to achieve full equality of men and women, to promote sustainable development and to foster understanding among the world’s religions. In this way, we strive to uphold the Bahá'í teaching, which states that “It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.” That which uplifts the most vulnerable amongst us, uplifts us all.