In the recent past, ordinary citizens in countries that never bothered to ratify or accede to any of the international human rights instruments used the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a basis of argument against repression. Its moral suasion, at least, is its strength.
Political leaders' rhetoric about having "too many rights" and "too few responsibilities" hardly created a controversy that can put UDHR in the realm of widespread public consciousness. Neither has mainstream media been of much help. It is accused of projecting human rights as meaningful only in the context of violations and hardly in its realization.
The UDHR still has a long way to go to become a real part of people's awareness. Its 50-year journey has yielded numerous human rights conventions and declarations yet its enshrined task is still to be fulfilled. The changing situation in the Asia-Pacific region may hopefully lead to some change. This ought to create meaning for UDHR in the next 50 years.
The UN Decade for Human Rights Education, now on its fourth year, has to become a greater instrument to spread the basic human rights principles embodied in UDHR. The UN Decade's major contribution is in fulfilling its call for governments to set up structures that will support the growth and development of human rights education efforts. Under this plan, the 50-year-old message of the UDHR will remain its major content.
On the way to its next 50-year existence, UDHR ought to be celebrated for the realization of its principles rather than merely noted as an historical document.