By Katsuhiro Asagiri
TOKYO (IDN) – When the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Paris on December 10, 1948, it came up with a milestone document in the history of human rights that took into account the horrendous experiences of the Second World War.
With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of the Second World War happen again. It pledged, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.
The 70th anniversary of the Declaration was commemorated with multifarious events around the world. One such event, the UDHR 70th Anniversary Youth Forum, was hosted in Tokyo on December 9, 2018 with the support of the United Nations Information Centre Japan by a coalition of Amnesty International Japan, Soka Gakkai Peace Committee, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), Human Rights Now, and the Human Rights Watch.
The significance of the activity in Tokyo was accentuated by the fact that the Japanese government has emphasised on several occasions the country’s firm belief in the promotion and protection of human rights as a legitimate interest of the international community which the Human Rights Council seeks to promote. The Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.
For upholding the highest standards of human rights enshrined and guaranteed in its Constitution, Japan was elected to the Council in October 2016 to serve a three-year term beginning on January 1, 2017 that expires end of 2019.
While UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised in a video message to the Youth Forum that “for 70 years, the UDHR has been a global beacon – shining a light for dignity, equality and well-being”, keynote speaker Atsushi Shibuya, a photo journalist who has been reporting on conflicts, poverty, human rights with pictures and essays from around the world, presented a picture book titled ‘Everyone is precious’ comprising articles related to the UDHR and corresponding photos taken by him.
Shibuya said the UDHR has contributed to the creation of two values: Equality (everyone is the same) and Individuality (everyone is his/her own, different from others). While keeping in mind the limitations of both values, it is important to open a new path by blending the two, he said.
“In other words, it is important to make Equality a warp and Individuality a woof and weave the two symmetrically to create a new value: ‘Everyone is precious’,” explained Shibuya.
In the ensuing panel discussion, moderator Kaoru Nemoto, Director of the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo, pointed out that more than one third of the 169 targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focuses on the roles to be played by the youth. Against this backdrop, the UN World Program for Human Rights Education in its fourth phase starting 2020 will focus on youth, Nemoto said.
Kazuko Ito, Secretary General of Human Rights Now, declared that human rights are an imperative for daily life. “It is a right to live by my own values with dignity.” She pleads for looking at issues with a long-term perspective.
Although it might appear that nothing has been changing within a short period of time, things have been taking a turn for the better. A case in point, Ito said, is the changing perception of people in regard to sexual harassment and the establishment of International Criminal Court after the Rwanda Genocide in 1994.
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda during the Rwandan Civil War, which had started in 1990. It was directed by members of the Hutu majority government during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994.
Human Rights are “like blood” – something that flows through our veins and are indispensable for our lives, said Riyo Yoshioka, Senior Program Officer, Asia Division of the Human Rights Watch. The significance of the UDHR, Yoshioka said, is underscored by new challenges presented by killer robots and climate change.
Megumi Komori, Deputy Secretary General of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), said that human rights is “something you realize when it is denied or violated”. A sense of empathy and solidarity are crucial to protect human rights.
IMADR has been working with the ‘Dalit’ communities – comprising people considered as ‘untouchable’ – in India. As far as discrimination issue is concerned, said Komori, “we still have many problems”. But one positive aspect is the development of internet technology which has allowed Dalit to speak out their grievances to the world and, for example, ask for support by lawyers and paralegals by contacting them via internet.
On the other hand, a negative example of technology is the issue of hate speech on internet, noted the IMADR Deputy Secretary General. “I feel that those hate speeches are more pervasive than voices promoting human rights on internet because one discriminatory message posted on internet, can go viral.”
Hideaki Nakagawa, Secretary General of Amnesty International Japan, said that developing one’s imagination by putting oneself in the shoes of people whose human rights are not protected is an important step toward promoting human rights. Amnesty International has been focusing on protecting human rights defenders around the world, who often become targets of persecutions.
In-depth discussions apart, the youth forum venue displayed the panels of the exhibition Transforming Lives: The Power of Human Rights Education. The exposition comprising 25 panels was created in 2016 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.
It was co-organized by the SGI, together with the Global Coalition for Human Rights Education (HRE 2020), the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning and the Platform for Human Rights Education and Training, with thanks to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The exhibition introduces case studies where human rights education has transformed values, beliefs and attitudes of individuals and groups, leading to positive initiatives to promote human rights in diverse communities in Australia, Burkina Faso, Peru, Portugal and Turkey. It also encourages viewers to take action in their own immediate environment, starting from their own families and communities. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 December 2018]
Related IDN article > Exhibition Highlights the Power of Human Rights Education
Photo: Youth Forum in Tokyo. Credit: Yukie Asagiri | IDN-INPS