By Sinéad Mangan-Mc Hale

#MigrantsDay, #RefugeeRights, #MigrationStories, #Inclusion, #HumanRights, #GlobalSolidarity

The entitlement of the human rights afforded to us by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also brings the responsibility of observing our own rights and those of others. Mutual respect is essential for an equitable and peaceful world.

On 10 December 2023, the world celebrates the 75th Anniversary of one of the world’s most groundbreaking global pledges: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). But what does that really mean to us – we all appear to know our own rights, but what about the rights of others?

When I was growing up, my mother always taught me to treat people as I would like to be treated. It is not rocket-science but a principle that, if we all adopted, it is possible to imagine a world where there would be fewer conflicts, acts of terrorism, human trafficking, domestic abuse, road rage, sexual harassment, and so many more occurrences of human rights abuse. It is to our shame that 75 years after the UDHR, in one form or another, people still witness, take part in, or support the abuse of human rights. We need to recognise that the violation of individual rights is non-discriminatory, occurring every day in every part of the world across gender, age, race, religion, and sexual orientation. To make matters worse, human rights abuses occur at many different levels with varying impacts, ranging from individual acts of discrimination to systemic and widespread violations carried out by governments or institutions. It may be simplistic, but unassuming parental guidance could cut through the complexity and severity of human rights challenges. 

In a year where we have witnessed the devastating effects of conflict in different parts of the world, involving acts of atrocities and humanitarian abuses, with each side declaring, and no doubt believing, their “right” to exert their actions, it is not enough to celebrate an anniversary. What is more important is recognising and acting upon the premise that human rights are fundamental principles that recognise every individual’s inherent dignity and value. These rights apply regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. The key words are “every individual” – from the migrant who crosses the channel desperate for a better life to the official at the Home Office who has the power to make life-changing decisions, from the young woman wearing a hijab to the long-serving council worker cleaning our streets, from the priest serving mass to the family heading to the synagogue. We can only claim our rights if we observe and respect the rights of others. The truth is we do not have to agree on everything, but we must respect different opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles. At the highest level, our governments, our leaders need to find a compromise, a situation where we can honour and respect the rights of our neighbours and put an end to blatant human rights abuse. The startling truth of what happens when we fail to recognise the rights of others was summed up by Voker Türk, UN High Commission for Human Rights at the opening of Human Rights Day, 

In many of my interactions with people, I’m also asked – given the pervasive conflicts and coups, climate change and other crises – have human rights failed? No. Human rights have not failed. It is the cynical disregard for human rights, and the failure to respect and heed warnings on human rights that has got us here. Human rights are inherent to every human being. Leaders who ignore this truth imperil the people they are meant to serve.

While these conflicts may occur in different parts of the world, the UK is not immune to human rights violations. The country is undergoing a time of increased hatred towards migrants, people who are entitled to the same human rights as the next person. We have seen too many attacks or protests by members of far-right and anti-immigrant groups on premises housing asylum seekers. Certain media outlets and political influencers are using increasingly inflammatory rhetoric against asylum seekers and migrants. Yet, our economy depends on the input of migrant workers across a range of economic sectors, from the NHS to all areas of healthcare provision, catering, and construction industries, to name just a few. 

Ironically, protesting in the UK is also a human right protected by Article 11 of the Human Rights Act, and protected under international law by provisions in various international and regional treaties. What is key is to respect the right to demonstrate but to do it while observing the rights of others and behaving according to the law. Again, a case of balance. 

The rights or limitation of rights of migrants arriving in the UK is an ongoing concern but it is not a new story. For example, the families of the migrants who were encouraged to move to the UK post World War 2 are not necessarily treated with dignity and respect. A tragic example is the Windrush scandal which took place in the 2010s. Despite having lived, worked, and contributed to the economy UK over decades, a government decision to verify their documentation resulted in the refusal of benefits, deportation, and an era of fear in a very “hostile environment”. The root of the scandal was that it was a government decision in 2010 to destroy the very documentation, landing cards, required as proof of legal entry. And today, the rights of many are still not provided. A writer in the TogetherintheUK anthology, Hear Our Stories, writes about despite being born, reared, educated, and working in the UK, she has been refused a passport four times. In her words, 

Hoping and wishing

for that citizenship,

to be naturalised

into a country

I have lived all my life.

The country whose buses

I get frustrated with,

the education system I battled.

For what,

to be marginalised

stopped and searched,

underrepresented, underpaid,

underhelped, underestimated?

 Second Gen Immigrant by Evelyn Bayerlein

To celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, take time to recognise what you are entitled to and what the person standing next to you is entitled to. Considering other people’s human rights is not only a moral imperative but crucial for fostering a more just, peaceful, and interconnected world. Your rights are also their rights, and we must work together to strike a balance that is essential for the well-being of individuals and societies on a local and global scale.

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UDHR 75th Anniversary 

The following is an extract from the UN Human Rights website, which sets out its objective for the 75th Anniversary.

The Time for Human Rights is Now

On Human Rights Day, 10 December 2023, we will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Declaration, a milestone celebration called Human Rights 75 (HR 75). Human Rights Day will capture all the moments from this year’s commemoration and seeks to increase knowledge on the universality and indivisibility of human rights, especially among young people. It will inspire people to create a movement of shared humanity while empowering them to fight for their rights and take action.

Learn more: Human Rights 75 Initiative

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The History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

The UDHR Declaration was proclaimed post World War 2 by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 and sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. To learn more about the history of the UDHR and the rights set out, go to United Nations.

To read more about the lives and impacts of migrants in UK society, go to TogetherintheUK.   

To purchase a copy of Hear Our Stories, an anthology of migrant writings compiled by TogetherintheUK, go to Victorina Press.