December 10th is marked annually around the world as Human Rights Day. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which grew out of the terrible devastation of the Second World War, was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and is widely viewed as the start of the modern era of human rights.
Canadian law professor John P Humphrey, head of the United Nations’ Human Rights Division, prepared the blueprint for the Universal Declaration under the direction of Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of US President Franklin D Roosevelt.
The simple, but powerful framework of the Universal Declaration is that human rights belong to everyone – and don’t depend on benevolent governments to bestow them. When governments, such as Canada, sign onto the Universal Declaration and a growing number of international human rights legal instruments, those governments take on a legal obligation to ensure that the rights of people living within their countries are realized.
Human rights experts recognize that individual human rights cannot be separated (in legal terms, they are called “indivisible”) and that various rights are connected (“intersectionality” of human rights).
The Wellesley Institute’s Making the Connections draws together a number of human rights to help demonstrate the powerful interaction.
Much of the Wellesley Institute’s research and policy work focuses on three human rights: the right to adequate housing, the right to health, and the right to an adequate standard of living (income and employment).
Recently, I was invited to an international forum in Mexico City on the Right to the City, which draws together democratic rights – such as the right to participate in the governance of municipalities – with collective rights – such as the right to housing, health and an adequate standard of living.
At this forum, I met with human rights and housing experts from Mexico City, who reported on their progress in using a Charter for the Right to the City, which was adopted by the federal district of Mexico City, to make practical advances in housing and related issues. I also met with a municipal lawyer from Bogota, who reported on their inclusionary housing practices. The Wellesley Institute has long advocated for inclusionary housing as a practical tool for increasing the amount of affordable housing in Toronto.
Representatives from United Cities and Local Governments, the global network of cities, local and regional governments (including the City of Toronto), set out their work in supporting a rights-based approach to urban issues.
I was also invited to join with housing and human rights groups in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for the launch of their homelessness and human rights indicators process. The event, co-sponsored by Participation and Practice of Rights and the Simon Community in Northern Ireland, developed an innovative initiative to engage people who are homeless in the provision of shelter services and wider government policy on homelessness and housing.
See this short video on John Peters Humphrey here.