Human Rights Day 2012: My Voice Counts

Photo courtesy of United Nation’s Office of the High Commission of Human Rights

Today, December 10th, is Human Rights Day. This day celebrates and honors the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The UDHR has been translated, disseminated and collected in more than 380 languages and dialects, according to the UN.

This year’s theme is Inclusion and the right to participate in public life. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said about the importance of this year’s theme:

“[People] are asking for an end to a situation where governments simply decide what is best for their populations without even consulting them. They are asking for their right to participate fully in the important decisions and policies affecting their daily lives, at the international and the local levels…They have been, in effect, asking for what has been, for more than sixty years, under international law, rightfully theirs.”

The right of every citizen to participate in the conduct of public affairs is legally guaranteed under Article 25 in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which includes allowing citizens to take part in public affairs, the right to vote, the right to be elected, and the right to access public service. The right to participate also includes allowing individuals to choose their own political affiliations, official representatives, government, and constitutions.

Unfortunately, for many people these rights are prohibited. According to the UN’s Office of the High Commission of Human Rights, “For reasons of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and religion among others and because of a lack of access to education, and appropriate facilities, many people have not been able to exercise their right to participation at all or as fully as others.”

Four or the most infringed upon groups include women, disabled people, indigenous people and minorities, and children. In many places women are voiceless in “decisions affecting their societies.” Meanwhile, the Inter-Parliamentary Union found that “there are just not enough women running for office to have the same electoral impact as men.” Disabled people have continuously been omitted from participating in public life, but many are now fighting for the right to participate in voting and the ability to be elected to public office. Tragically for indigenous people and minorities, their outcast status hinders their ability to “exercise their right to participate.” Although children may be lawfully prevented from voting, they still have the right to partake in civic life.

Please click here to read stories from OHCHR on individuals campaigning to participate in public life across the globe.

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