How to Support the First Ten Universal Human Rights

The UN adopted its international standard for human rights in 1948. Let’s walk through the first ten articles of it now. Since December 10, 1948, the UDHR has inspired over 70 treaties that support human rights. Now we’ll go over what these rights mean.

While you’re reading these rights, think about how well your country does. What changes could it make? Most importantly, what can you do to push for human rights?

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

You exist as a free and equal person. You have a mind and goals. And you should treat others as if the same is true of them.

We are free and equal. Human beings can think and make informed choices. We should use those abilities to form connections and community with fellow humans.

People, while not necessarily being alike, have an equal right to dignity. We get this right from our ability to think and make decisions. Also, we should treat each other as beings with rights.

How well do you think your country supports this right? Is there something you can do to improve that?

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

No matter who you are, these rights apply to you.

Here, the UN broke down the statement in Article 1 into smaller pieces. No matter what a human looks like, all humans get human rights.

See how careful the UN was to list as many kinds of people as possible? They wanted to clearly communicate that everyone in the world has rights.

You get human rights. No matter where you live. Not even if your government disagrees.

How well do you think your country supports this right? What should they improve? How can you support that?

Human Rights Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

No one can kill or imprison you. No one can violate your privacy or assault your mental health.

It’s nice to see a simple statement here, isn’t it? Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person. The UN borrowed this language from several constitutions. Clearly, they wanted to reinforce the simplicity and universality of this statement.

The right to life gives people protection against being killed by the state. Similarly, the right to liberty protects people from being detained without a good reason. Finally, “security of person” protects bodily autonomy. In addition, it protects people from being harassed by the state.

So, how well do you think your country supports this right? How could you push your country to do better?

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

No one can enslave anyone. Again,how basic is that? And how frequently violated by people and governments everywhere?

Article 4 again expands a general statement. Because liberty is a right, slavery in all its forms must be illegal. Furthermore, it specifically outlaws profiting from slavery.

Forms of slavery include:

Human trafficking: People are stolen from their homes, isolated from support, and forced to work.

Forced labor: When an enslaver forces another to work under the threat of punishment.

Debt bondage: Enslavers lend money to people and force them to work to repay the debt.

Descent-based Slavery: Enslaved people live their entire lives in slavery. Further, their children are born into slavery.

Slavery of Children: Children can’t be exploited for profit.

Forced and Early Marriage: People can’t force a child to marry someone. In addition, no one can force an adult to marry against their will.

Seeing this, do you think your country supports this right? Where does it need to do better?

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

No country or individual can torture people. Even as punishment, the article forbids cruel and inhumane treatment. Unfortunately, both people and countries struggle with this rule. How well does your government follow this rule? And how could they do better? Finally, what can do you to advocate?

Human Rights Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

I see you as a person. It sounds so simple, but it’s a right that governments and people violate a lot. Can you think of examples?

Does your country treat everyone as people? Which people serve as exceptions? How does your government explain this? And how can you help your country do better?

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

Laws apply to every human equally. No one gets special privileges that others don’t. Not only must governments not discriminate, but they also can’t encourage people to. If a government charges two people with the same crime, they must be subject to the same rules.

Do you think your government follows this rule well? Why or why not? How could they improve? Most importantly, how can you push for improvement?

Human Rights Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

If your country violates your rights, you can sue. Not only can you sue, but your country must provide a fair civil legal system to you. If your local courts don’t solve your problem, you can appeal to regional and national courts.

Does your country have procedures for suing the state? Are they effective? Can anyone access them? What can you do to build better systems?

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

Your country can’t arrest you, lock you up, or kick you out without a legal process. Many countries have a complex set of laws to protect you. Others have simpler processes. The important part is that the processes must be fair and effective.

How well does your country do? Where could they improve? How can you advocate for changes?

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

You get a fair trial. He gets a fair trial. She gets a fair trial and they get a fair trial. You are entitled to an unbiased judge or judges. This builds on Article 9 by spelling out some of the processes that are needed.

Does your country provide fair trials for criminals? Why or why not? What should they do differently? How can you fight for fair trials?

How to Advocate

After each article and its restatement, I wrote several open-ended questions for you to think about. These questions invite you to think critically about what your country says it does compared to what it actually does. Then I asked you to think about how you can make a difference. Now I’m going to give you some ideas of specific things you can do.

Vote.

First, if you live in a country with free and fair elections, vote. Every time. Spend some time in the months before an election learning about the candidates. If you’re unsure, ask questions.

Use Social Media.

Pick a topic or topics that is/are important to you and speak out about them. Learn about those topics and then educate others. Call in or call out people who are violating human rights. Build a following and have each of those people expand their influence. Build some of those contacts into political influence or power.

Run for Office.

If you are eligible and able to, run for local office. National politicians often start locally. Sometimes a local politician becomes powerful at making regional changes. Then, once you’re in office, you can band together with others to increase your power to change things.

Protest.

Join a local protest group and march and protest with them. Take any classes they offer on effective protest. You can even learn how to lead protests and start planning them yourselves.

Donate to Causes.

It costs a lot of money to run for office and it costs money to run effecive protests. Whenever you can, throw a bit of money in the pot for a favorite person or cause. Every now and then, try to get friends and family to join you. You might even set up an automatic monthly debit.

Provide Material Support.

Cook meals for protesters. Paint signs. Or collect signatures. Make phone calls. Maybe even lick stamps. Perhaps file paperwork. In essence, do the unglamorous everyday jobs that keep an organization running.

Speak Up.

You can advocate anywhere, any time, with anyone. As an example, have a conversation with a beloved family member about why prison reform is important. Or you could bring up

Think Critically.

It’s very easy to get caught up in a cause and the bubble of people who support it. Sometimes that leads to being blind to problems your cause is making worse. Sometimes you need to stop and gather perspectives from others. Ultimately, your goal is to make sure your cause doesn’t interfere with another set of human rights.

What Do I Do Next?

Jennifer Liles is the owner and webmistress for Jenni's Space and Responsive Mental Health Services LLC. She is dedicated to mental health and human rights for freaks, geeks, and queer folk. She uses the Jenni's Space label for places where she combines education about, advocacy for, and celebration of mental health and human rights. This information is primarily for neurodiverse people, people with mental health issues, people who are on the queer spectrum, disabled people, and Black and Indigenous and other people of color. There are also discussions for privileged people about privilege and how it intersects with human rights work.