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FOCUS December 2023 Volume 114

Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Jefferson R. Plantilla

The adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first ever declaration on human rights, is feted annually as a milestone in the history of the United Nations (UN). But in order to make such celebration meaningful, it has to be relevant to the realities of people on the ground.

Celebrating UDHR in the Midst of Turmoil

The 75th anniversary of the UDHR was celebrated in the context of continuing human rights violations by state forces as well as human rights abuses by non-state entities. This has been the case since 1948 till the present. Despite the unfortunate situation, the UDHR is seen as a significant weapon in the fight for human rights.

In a country suffering from renewed armed confrontation between ethnic minority armies and the Myanmar military, people still recognized the importance of celebrating the UDHR.

The celebration was held in several places in Myanmar as one report states:[1]

Despite grave danger and persecution, countless brave individuals and communities within Myanmar have persisted in peaceful and defiant protests and continue raising awareness on human rights. On Human Rights Day, the protest of a young group that rallied in Launglon Township, Tanintharyi Region, held a sign saying, "Our rights, our future, the end of all dictatorships." Likewise, in Monywa Township, Sagaing Region, where a massacre recently occurred, a local youth charity group, Anyar Pyit Taing Htaung Laymyar, marched to commemorate Human Rights Day and stated, "We have lost the inherent human rights due to the group of military juntas. We are no longer able to walk freely down the streets of our own city like before. We are losing our rights to live."

Another account states:[2]

On 10 December, students, LGBT groups and locals from Launglon Township, Tanintharyi Region, marched to protest against the junta and raise awareness on human rights, carrying a banner that read "Our rights, our future, the end of all dictatorships."

Myanmar-UDHR.jpgProtest on 10 December 2023. Photo by Democracy Movement Strike Committee - Dawei District, Myanmar.

In Jordan, Queen Rania posted a video in her official Instagram account where she commented: "75 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights yet the denial of Palestinian human rights goes on." She added: "Humanity cannot be applied selectively."[3]

Community Celebration

With "LGBTQI community...being left behind," APCOM[4] in commemorating the 75th anniversary of the UDHR ran a mini campaign (#MyRightsEveryday) that highlighted thirty community members across the Asia-Pacific region in inspiring and empowering LGBTQI+ people in the "community to stand up for their rights everyday." Cam ASEAN Youth's Future had its celebration through song compositions with the theme "Water does not discriminate against gender," about LGBTIQ people who were not able to use natural resources especially the river.[5] It also featured in its newsletter "some stories from three of our LGBTQI communit[ies] operating in some of the most difficult situations and circumstances - Afghanistan, Myanmar and Pakistan, [and also] community generated stories from Bangladesh."[6]

Asians and the UDHR

The celebration of the 75th anniversary of the UDHR provides an opportunity for recalling the contribution of Asians in the drafting of the declaration and in enriching it with wisdom from Asia.

The Secretary General (Bharat Lal) of the National Human Rights Commission of India posted on Linked a message on Human Rights Day that highlighted the role played by Indian representatives in the UN committee drafting the UDHR:[7

In the drafting of this document, two Indians namely Hansa Mehta and Laxmi Menon introduced 'gender equality' and 'non-discriminatory' clauses, respectively. This reflects Indian ethos.

The China Society for Human Rights Studies held a seminar to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the UDHR. The seminar participants cited the role of the Chinese representative in the UN committee drafting the UDHR: [8]

Based on the Confucian concept of ren (benevolence), Zhang Pengchun (1892-1957), who served as vice-chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, introduced the term liangxin (conscience) in the first article of the declaration.

A seminar participant stressed the significance of contribution from people of diverse cultures:[9]

Lu Guangjin, a professor at Jilin University's School of Law, said, "An absence of contributors from diverse cultural and civilizational backgrounds, and a lack of inclusive coexistence between different cultures and civilizations would have made the birth of the declaration impossible."

A symposium organized by the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on 10 December 2023 had the theme "Extending the Horizons of Human Rights" and was planned to "showcase the contributions of ... Filipinos in international human rights treaties and mechanisms, particularly those in the United Nations."[10] During the symposium, speakers cited the role of Carlos P. Romulo[11] in the drafting of the UDHR.[12] Bertrand Ramcharan spoke in the symposium about Romulo and the need to know his contribution in the drafting of the declaration.

The Institute of Lebanese Thought, in partnership with the Department of English and Translation within the Faculty of Humanities at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), organized a lecture on the life and lasting legacy of Charles Malik. Tony Nasrallah, PhD, the curator of the Charles Malik Archive at NDU delivered the lecture on the topic "Charles Malik and his Legacy at NDU."[13] The university has been organizing annual events to celebrate the anniversary of the UDHR with a focus on the legacy of Charles Malik.

Broadening Areas of Concern

Emerging issues were also emphasized in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the UDHR. The members of the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions note in their Delhi Declaration (September 2023) the "emerging human rights issues and challenges especially in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Artificial Intelligence, business, healthcare, climate change, natural and human-made disasters and offences taking place across borders."[14] The Delhi Declaration states that the member institutions are recalling and renewing their "commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), on the 75th anniversary of its adoption by the General Assembly states."

In relation to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they "reaffirm that the goal of a peaceful, inclusive and developed society is interrelated and mutually reinforced by the protection and promotion of rights envisaged in the UDHR and codified by various international instruments." They devoted a whole section on "Climate Change and Human Rights" in the Delhi Declaration.

The Freedom of Expression Conference (FreeXP.con) VII Declaration entitled "Youth action for promoting and defending freedom of expression in Southeast Asia," states:[15]

In commemoration of International Human Rights Week and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR@75) culminating on 10 December 2023, we unite with a commitment to collectively foster an environment where youth can flourish, express themselves freely, and actively contribute to the advancement and safeguarding of human rights.

One non-governmental organization stressed the universality of the UDHR through this message:[16]

Let's decolonize our field so that the UDHR can truly be 'universal': for everyone - everywhere. Let's be in charge and let's collectively heal together.

Celebrating for Meaning

Honoring the adoption in 1948 of the UDHR is important in promoting human rights. But this seventy-five-year-old document has to be meaningful in the current situation of people and society in order to ensure effective rights promotion. Thus, UDHR celebrations became occasions for renewing efforts to address issues that people suffer from including the never-ending discrimination, continuing violence, and persistent deprivations and poverty.

But honoring the UDHR should also be a celebration of the protection and realization of human rights, especially for those who have been left behind.

Jefferson R. Plantilla is a researcher in HURIGHTS OSAKA.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


[1] [Weekly Highlights] New Human Rights Narrative by Myanmar's People, Progressive Voice, December 18, 2023.

[2] Democracy Movement Strike Committee-Dawei, December 10, 2023,

[3] Queen Rania on Human Rights Universal Declaration: Denial of Palestinian human rights goes on, Jordan News Agency,

[4] Profile of APCOM:

APCOM has a primary focus on HIV because it is a key health issue for gay men and other men who have sex with men in the region. APCOM also addresses other related health issues for our communities such as sexual health, mental health and drug use.

APCOM also focuses on improving relevant human and legal rights across the region as discrimination, stigma, criminalisation and exclusion impact on the health outcomes of the communities we serve.


[5] For a video of the Cam ASEAN Youth's Future celebration, visit

[6] 75th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Human Rights Day 2023, APCOM,

[7] Bharat Lal,

[8] Yao Yuxin, China lauded for contribution to human rights cause, China Daily, 5 December 2023,

[9] Ibid.

[10] UP Media and Public Relations Office, Extending the Horizons of Human Rights: Philippines and the UDHR, University of the Philippines, November 30, 2023,

[11] "Carlos Romulo (Philippines, 1901 - 1985) was Head of the Philippine delegation to the San Francisco Conference in 1945. He was President of the fourth session of the General Assembly (1949-50) and later served as President of the Security Council on four different occasions when the Philippines was elected to the Council." Interview with General Carlos P. Romulo / by William Powell and Rebecca Akao, United Nations Digital Library,

[12] 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, TVUP,

[13] In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),;

Celebrating Charles Malik: An Insightful Lecture on His Enduring Legacy, 9 November 2023,

[14] Delhi Declaration, Twenty Eighth Annual General Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Forum Of National Human Rights Institutions, 20-21 September 2023, New Delhi, India,

[15] Freedom of Expression Conference (FreeXP.con),

[16] Manushya Foundation #WeAreManushyan,*&update=urn%3Ali%3Afs_updateV2%3A(urn%3Ali%3Aactivity%3A7139655633632501760%2CBLENDED_SEARCH_FEED%2CEMPTY%2CDEFAULT%2Cfalse.