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BigLogo.gif UN Member States on the Record
Celebrating 60 years of advocating for human rights
10 December 2008 / 02:43

[Dateline: New York | Author:  iSeek]

web site As the year-long commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights draws to a close, the world marks Human Rights Day 2008 on Wednesday, 10 December with many remarkable and thought-provoking events planned all over the world between now and next Monday.

The scheduled activities, including concerts, film screenings and open debates with Nobel laureates, are being held to honour and celebrate the specific rights laid out by the drafters in the Declaration. They range from the rights not to be tortured, enslaved or arbitrarily detained to the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and religion. The Declaration also stipulates a range of key social, economic and cultural rights, such as education, health, and the right to equal pay for equal work.

Perhaps, most importantly, everyone is entitled to these rights “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion…”

Historical photos Today, the principles outlined 60 years ago are echoed in the constitutions and laws of more than 90 countries. 

In the intervening years, dedicated international, regional and national mechanisms, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Council with its independent experts, have been established to monitor, promote, protect and further develop human rights.

In his message for the commemoration, Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon reflected on the continuing struggle to see the universal human rights enjoyed by everyone, everywhere, saying, “The challenges we face today are as daunting as those that confronted the Declaration’s drafters.  We face a food emergency and a global financial crisis. Humankind’s assault on the natural environment continues. There is political repression in too many countries. And as ever, the most vulnerable continue to be on the frontlines of hardship and abuse" (full text).

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, called for greater efforts to implement human rights standards worldwide, saying, “Tens of millions of people around the world are still unaware that they have rights that they can demand, and that their governments are accountable to them, and to a wide-ranging body of rights-based national and international law." She stated: "Despite all our efforts over the past 60 years, this anniversary will pass many people by, and it is essential that we keep up the momentum, thereby enabling more and more people to stand up and claim their rights” (full text).

Film and book project

Stories on Human Rights by Filmmakers, Artists and Writers One special project called Stories on human rights by filmmakers, writers and artists includes around 20 short, three-minute films in the six official United Nations languages that were produced by directors from around the world.  An accompanying book features background information on the films and the directors and texts by very prominent authors, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Khaled Hosseini, Naghib Mafuz, Toni Morrison and others, and posters designed by arts students from more than 20 countries.

The project was made possible thanks to the commitment and creative support of many individuals, and the financial support of the European Union, the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, and Serviço Social do Comércio (SESC) in São Paulo, Brazil. Screenings are being organized in many countries including Brazil, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Tunisia.

According to Organizers, some of the films are plainly-told stories of everyday lives while others take a more metaphoric approach. They are all thought-provoking and ideal for triggering discussion about human rights. Educators and advocates everywhere will find among them suitable films for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

The film project, an important part of the year-long celebration of this landmark international instrument, encompassed the UN family, the public and private sectors, media, schools, artists and other representatives of civil society throughout the world.

Some of the other events planned around the world include:


The United Nations Country Team in Thailand, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission, hosted a public event at Chulalongkorn University on 9 December, launching their joint publication "Dignity and Justice for All of Us: Our Voices are Heard in Thailand".

Authors and contributors to the publication include many well-known personalities in Thailand.  In the publication, each article in the Declaration features an analysis of experiences and comments collected from people for whom articles have particular relevance, as well as the significance of respective articles in the Thai context.  Selected contributors to the publication: Mr. Mechai Viravaidya, Ms. Angkhana Neelapaijit, Mr. Tej Bunnag,  Prof. Vitit Muntabhorn,  Mr. Boripat Donmon.


In Egypt, journalists will be awarded for the best human rights article at a ceremony organized jointly by the UN Information Center in Cairo and the Human Rights Capacity Building Program at the Al-Ahram Institute on Monday, 15 December.


On Wednesday, 10 December, the United Nations Office at Geneva and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research are jointly organizing the second conference in the Geneva Lecture Series at 4:30 p.m., an open debate with the participation of the Nobel Prize winners Shirin Ebadi and Wole Soyinka on the topic, “Are Human Rights Universal?”  (Webcast)

A commemorative session of the Human Rights Council will be held on Friday, 12 December, in the new Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room (Salle XX) at the Palais des Nations, which will include a high-level segment with the participation of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the afternoon.  The session will be opened with an address by the Council President, Ambassador Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, and a reading of the Declaration in different languages by children.  (Webcast)

The same day, Friday, 12 December, at 1 p.m., Stories on human rights by filmmakers, writers and artists will be screened in the Cinema (Room XIV).

New York

The final installment in the New Human Rights Dialogue Series, “Reclaiming The Vision: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Today” will feature the participation of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Professor Philip Alston, Larry Cox, Michael Ratner, and Professor Patricia Williams.  The event will take place on Wednesday, 10 December, at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 4.  (Webcast)

Also on Wednesday, 10 December, the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights will be awarded at the special afternoon commemorative General Assembly plenary meeting in the General Assembly Hall at 3 p.m. The recipients of the 2008 Prize are: Ms. Louise Arbour, Mr. Ramsey Clark, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Human Rights Watch. Mrs. Benazir Bhutto and Sr. Dorothy Stang will be awarded the prize posthumously. (Webcast)

A screening of Stories on human rights by filmmakers, writers and artists with introductory remarks by the High Commissioner for Human Rights will take place on Wednesday, 10 December, in the Dag Hammarksjold Auditorium at 6 p.m.

The United Nations University is organizing a lecture entitled “Human Rights: The Second 60 Years” by Dr. Thomas Pogge, a leading philosopher in the field of global justice. Dr. Pogge is the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, USA. This lecture will take place on Thursday, December 11, at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 4.

On Monday, 15 December, a special concert will be held in the GA Hall at 7 p.m. featuring a performance by the West-Eastern Divan Quintet, with celebrated pianist and Messenger of Peace, Maestro Daniel Barenboim.  (ticket information).


The first “Sergio Vieira de Mello-UNMIT Human Rights Awards” will be announced in December. The award will be handed out by the Timor-Leste President José Manuel Ramos to an individual, group or institution, having made significant contribution to the cause of human rights in the country.


Facing Nations: Culture of Humanity In Austria, the UN Information Service Vienna is cooperating with the Austrian state broadcaster ORF and a number of other partners in a cultural project entitled "FACING NATIONS - culture of humanity." Inspired by the knowledge that the small Austrian city of Graz (Population: 250,000 and the only designated "Human Rights Town" in Europe) has inhabitants from over 150 different countries, the Austrian artist Oskar Stocker spent eight months meeting, sketching and painting portraits of the different nationalities. The result is over 150 meters long "humanity panorama," with 124 portraits of Graz residents of different nationalities. 

Information about other scheduled activities is available online

Previous events

Beginning on Human Rights Day 2007, United Nations offices around the globe held a diverse range of creative events on different aspects of human rights under the theme “Dignity and justice for all of us.” Here are some examples:

Demonstrating the truly international reach of the UDHR60 campaign, UN offices in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Congo Egypt, Greece, Paraguay and Russia, organized seminars, conferences and roundtable discussions on issues from disability rights to the human rights-environment nexus.
Blue Cape of Human Rights | Credit: UNRIC Brussels In Brussels, the “Defenders Take the Floor” conference in October, organized jointly by the UN Regional Information Centre in Brussels, the European Parliament and the European Commission honoured human rights defenders around the world with, among other things, a silent performance of the Blue Cape of Human Rights.

Patras in Greece was home to an international painting exhibit on human rights while Brazzaville, Republic of Congo and Yerevan, Armenia all hosted local exhibitions.

A photographic exhibit highlighting historical perspectives as well as current challenges to human rights was shown in Prague, Czech Republic.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) established 80 human rights clubs in schools. Televison and radio programmes on human rights were broadcast throughout the year.

In India, on Sunday, 7 December, 2,500 students marked the 60th anniversary of UDHR with a run on New Delhi’s most prominent avenue (from India Gate to the Presidential Palace), organized by the UN Information Centre New Delhi, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission. 

In South Africa, the UN Information Centre and the High Commissioner for Human Rights together with the South African Human Rights Commission collaborated in a ten-day banner campaign in major cities in South Africa.