Deciphering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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As an aspiring Human Rights lawyer, I thought that as a first personal exercise and I would study the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and see where I think articles correspond to rights that I intuitively believe have the need to be declared and protected and where I think articles do not.

A first reading of all the 30 articles provides me with great satisfaction. I guess I shouldn’t expect less than this. Indeed, although the Declaration was put together 68 years ago, it still holds true to the fundamental basic needs allowing any individual to preserve his human dignity. Cos yes, “human dignity” is to me the fundamental measure by which you identify a human right and you establish the means to preserve and defend it over time.

Nonetheless, I have spotted a few areas in the Declaration that were eyebrow-raising or stirred unanswered questions. I have listed them below.

– “human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief” What do we understand by freedom of speech? Do the Charlie Hebdo events of 2015 question the limit of freedom of speech? What if the speech attacks the freedom of belief?

*Article 2:
– Why isn’t sexual orientation listed alongside the other categories quoted: race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national origin, social origin, property, birth?

– Why isn’t age listed alongside the other categories quoted: race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national origin, social origin, property, birth? Also what does “birth” mean as a category?

*Article 4:
– What about modern slavery? Can we give it a definition and can it be enscribed in the Declaration as a crime against humanity?

*Article 5:
– What qualifies as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment? What measure do we use to consider whether an act is an attack on human dignity or not?

*Article 11:
– What do we mean by “all the guarantees necessary to his defense“. What are the guarantees of a defense and how do we ensure that they are maintained throughout the whole duration of a trial?

*Article 12:
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
A friend of mine recently noticed something sinister about Facebook. The day after he is called by people he has never met or had any contact with before, Facebook suggests to him that he might know them. Now, the only thing that links my friend to these unknown callers is their cell phone numbers. Therefore it looks like Facebook not only runs scans of phone contact book, but also calls logs. Isn’t this in breach of Article 12? What is an arbitrary interference?

*Article 15:
“No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”
– What constitutes an “arbitrary deprivation”? In the case of a national who wants to add to his original nationality a 2nd one, however the 2nd country only grants him the new nationality if he forfeits his first one, can we call it an “arbitrary deprivation”?

*Article 16:
– What does “full age” mean when we say “Men and women of full age have the right to marry and to found a family? Aren’t marriages of young teenage girls rampant in certain regions of the world due to the vague meaning of the expression “full age”?

*Article 18:
– It would be good to add the freedom of apostasy in the article, that means the freedom to renounce to any religion or belief.
I believe that there are also areas that are not covered in the UDHR, which may deserve a particular mention so that they are adopted in a more practical way by the different signatory states. These are the following:

– body dignity and mental dignity, and our right to be protected against any physical or verbal violence
– the environment and our duty to protect it, or our right to defend it against destruction of any kind, considering as a premise that it has a direct impact on the survival of the human species.
– biological integrity, and the right for our human physiology to not be dissolved, merged, nor confused with any artificial and mechanical devices or intelligence of any kind

I would love to know what you think of the points above, and if you have spotted similar or other gaps that need to be filled. I am hoping that each of the points will be the subject of further theoretical developments in future posts. In the meantime, thank you in advance for your contribution.


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