As world leaders and South Africans honor Nelson Mandela as an unparalleled champion of human rights, the global community is also celebrating International Human Rights Day. Every December 10, the United Nations observes the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which the institution affirmed that all human beings should enjoy certain unequivocal rights, including “security of person…freedom of thought…and education.” On this day, the global community is called on to acknowledge contemporary human rights issues and achievements.
Here are some of the United Nation’s outstanding contributions to human rights victories this year:
1. Promoted Syria’s chemical weapons ban.
In September, one of the most positive developments to come out of Syria’s civil war occurred when the United States and Russia signed off on a deal enshrined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118. Under the resolution, the United States agreed to forgo taking military action against Syria for crossing President Obama’s “red-line” — using chemical weapons against its people — while Russia agreed to the destruction of its ally’s chemical weapons. As a result, a task force led by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and United Nations have successfully investigated 22 of Syria’s 23 stockpiles and initiated their destruction with extraordinary speed.
2. Advanced women’s rights.
On November 27, the United Nations adopted a groundbreaking resolution to ensure the well-being of women human rights defenders. Challenged by noteworthy opponents — including the Vatican — the resolution seeks to protect advocates, like Malala Yousafzai and Malalai Joya, from violent attacks and discrimination, which is commonly endorsed by state leaders. Women human rights defenders face a litany of threats, such as “arrests, mistreatment, torture, criminalization, wrongful sentencing, stigmatization, attacks, threats, death threats and killings, sexual violence and rape.” As Hillary Clinton famously claimed in 1995, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” rendering the General Assembly’s action a move in the right direction.
3. Regulated the global arms trade.
Last April, the General Assembly passed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to coordinate arms trade internationally. With annual profits of $70 billion or more, the arms trade is a lucrative endeavor for countries like the United States, which earned $66.3 billion from sales in 2011. The ATT calls on states to conclude whether or not procured arms would contribute to human rights violations and violent atrocities in general, such as acts of terrorism or war. Under the treaty — which was signed by the U.S. in September — governments enter into and monitor agreements, under which states will abstain from selling procured arms to governments who abuse human rights.
4. Combatting potential genocide.
In response to Central African Republic’s (CAR) upheaval, the United Nations recently approved a legion of troops to protect civilians amid growing violence. Since the March 2013 coup, which removed former President Francois Bozize from the country’s highest leadership position, contesting stakeholders have relentlessly vied for power and engaged in mass murder. Acknowledging the situation’s extremity, the United Nations approved the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) to provide hundreds of African Union troops to defend civilian victims. Additionally, the U.N. permitted French troops stationed in CAR to assist in MISCA’s advancement through taking action against the armed groups on both sides of the sectarian conflict.
Through these substantial accomplishments, the United Nations has demonstrated its commitment to protecting human rights on a global scale — something worth celebrating on this special day.