75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

It’s the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But how can we celebrate as bombs rain down on Gaza? As governments from Britain to Belarus seem determined to undermine the foundation of rights: the rule of law? And as we all struggle to make the hard choices needed to preserve the basis of human existence: a healthy eco-system?


We can celebrate if we recall that tremendous progress IS being achieved – from the indigenous communities reversing biodiversity loss and global youth committed to positive change, to the movement for sustainable business and emergence of financial firms investing in measurable social and environmental impact. They join actors like the United Nations which are performing better than ever, as we integrate learning on how to effectively support better standards of life, in larger freedom.


We can celebrate if we recall that the Universal Declaration is aspirational: it presents an ambitious vision to be realised over generations. The drafters of the UDHR were clear on this: at the General Assembly session at which it was adopted, they repeated this statement twice: “let us, as Members of the United Nations, conscious of our own short-comings and imperfections, join our effort in good faith to live up to this high standard.”


Conscious of our short-comings and imperfections. Isn’t this the critical point? That we are imperfect human beings, with imperfect institutions, trying to live into a bold vision of a better world. Trying, and succeeding, and failing, and hoping that over time, through two steps forward and one step back over decades, we will – too slowly, and highly imperfectly – nevertheless progress towards freedom, justice and peace.


We can celebrate this anniversary if we reconcile ourselves to what it is to be human: capable of great cruelty and incredible generosity; able to innovate to improve living conditions, and to destroy all life. The UDHR is one of those hopeful, honourable innovations – a Magna Carta for humanity produced by the fine minds and noble spirits of women and men who observed, through two world wars, the immense darkness of which humanity is capable, and dedicated themselves to lighting a candle of hope.


Today, I celebrate their legacy, and yours. You, dear friends and colleagues, are the latest in a long line of people using legal, artistic, political, financial, and creative means to illuminate a path to a better world. Thank you. xo

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