About Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day, celebrated each year on December 10th, honors the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. By approving the Universal Declaration, nations of the world agreed for the first time on a common standard of fundamental rights and freedoms, recognized as the birthright of all people, everywhere.

The Universal Declaration has since become a cornerstone of international human rights law and is known as “the constitution of the human rights movement.” Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, widely admired for her labors on behalf of the disadvantaged, oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration as the Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights. An ecumenical coalition of faith leaders lent substantial support for this historic document, which today is widely respected as a moral and legal touchstone for the just and fair treatment of the human person.

Human Rights Day is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to upholding the human dignity, equality, and rights of all people. It is a day to commemorate and honor the progress recent generations have made toward a more just and equitable world, while acknowledging the urgent need to continue the struggle to ensure that the basic rights and freedoms of the most vulnerable are respected.

Ways to Honor Human Rights Day

The ideal of human rights is most powerful when it lives within each one of us. Eleanor Roosevelt’s timeless reflection on the vital importance of our efforts resonates as powerfully as ever:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Here are some ways you can honor Human Rights Day and further the cause of justice in your community. Take inspiration from one of these, or use it as a springboard for an initiative of your own.

Organize an Advent study on how the Bible speaks to human rights, using Life in All Its Fullness or the Scripturally Annotated Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with the Universal Declaration.

Hold a candlelight Advent vigil to commemorate those who have suffered human rights abuses and those whose human rights are still being violated.

Organize a public reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This could be done in worship or at another community gathering. Consider reading each article in a different language to convey that these fundamental human rights are shared by all people, everywhere.

Request a Mayoral Proclamation that recognizes December 10th as Human Rights Day in your city. If you’re planning a public reading or vigil, invite your mayor and other key local officials to participate, letting them know that human rights are a vital concern to you and your church or community.

Submit a letter to the editor discussing the importance of respect for human rights in the United States and in your city and state. Focus on an issue of concern in your local community, and mention how that issue is addressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Look for local celebrations of Human Rights Day in your community. You may find a local United Nations Association – USA chapter hosting an event.

Support the #Standup4humanrights campaign through your church or organization’s web site and social media channels (or your personal social media), using downloadable campaign visual materials

In New York, take part in any of a number of UN events commemorating Human Rights Day and the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration.

Watch the UN panel discussion that will be live-streamed on December 10th.

Recommended Resources

National Council of Churches, Life in All Its Fullness: The Word of God and Human Rights (American Bible Society 1992) – a booklet that brings together Scriptural passages relevant to human rights; includes a study guide and the full text of the Universal Declaration; useful for group or individual reflection and discussion.

The Carter Center, Scripturally Annotated Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2018) – a resource designed to inspire reflection on the relationship between Christianity and support for human rights; pairs each of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration with scripture passages and brief commentary; useful for group or individual reflection or discussion.

Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year C, Dale P. Andrews, Ronald J. Allen, & Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, editors (Westminster John Knox Press 2012) – scripture readings and reflections on Human Rights Day and other “Holy Days of Justice”; see Christine Marie Smith’s contribution on Human Rights Day.

National Council of Churches, “Human Rights: The Fulfillment of Life in the Social Order” (adopted by the General Board, November 17, 1995) – a thoughtful biblical and theological understanding of human rights and an account of the Church’s witness to their vital importance, along with discussions of challenges to human rights and requirements for their realization.

World Council of Churches “70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (GEN. PUB. 05.03 rev. June 2018) – a statement reaffirming the WCC’s longstanding commitment to ecumenical advocacy for human dignity and human rights, and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in particular.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Collected Resources for Human Rights Day – includes liturgical resources such as a pastoral prayer, advent devotion, order of worship, and candle lighting service.

Baptist World Alliance, “Invitation to Celebrate Human Rights Day” (2012)

United Church of Christ, “An Intercessory Prayer for HR Day” (2002)

United Nations, web page about Human Rights Day

United Nations, 70th Anniversary Stand Up for Human Rights Campaign – designed to promote understanding of how the Universal Declaration empowers us all and to encourage reflection on how each of us can stand up for rights; includes videos, visuals, and information on Human Rights Day celebrations around the globe.

Facing History Blog, “Five Resources to Explore on Human Rights Day” – includes several brief educational videos on the history of the Universal Declaration.

Larry Cox, “Human Rights Must Get Religion” (April 4, 2014) – an essay exploring how religion “offers the human rights movement hope for renewal, along with greater legitimacy and impact,” and underscoring the unique contributions of religious leaders and communities.