International Human Rights Day

10 December 2012
Sally Scott, Campaigns Officer

Today marks International Human Rights Day, an annual celebration of the landmark day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created on 10 December 1948. It was a hugely significant event, taking place in the wake of the atrocities of World War II when 50 nations put aside their differences and came together to pledge to uphold certain rights which would be afforded to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, religion or political views.

It was a major achievement by the United Nations and a move which later inspired the Council of Europe to set up the European Convention on Human Rights in 1951 - which ultimately led to the Human Rights Act 1998 which enshrined the convention’s principles in British law.

Sixty four years down the line, celebrations around the world today will serve as a reminder of how important and relevant these rights remain.

However, there are threats to the HRA. At the Conservative party conference in October there was talk of their next election manifesto including proposals to withdraw from the European Convention. In the light of bad press and bad politics, it can be easy to overlook how much good the HRA does. Indeed in October, the Home Secretary admitted that she was only able to end the ten-year anguish of Gary McKinnon and his family by preventing his extradition to the US using the Human Rights Act. She concluded that the threat to his health, and in particular the risk he may take his own life, made his extradition incompatible with Article 3 - the right not to face torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. It has also been used to obtain a fresh inquest into the death of soldier Anne-Marie Ellement; protect the sources of investigative journalist Suzanne Breen; and keep an elderly couple together.

As Human Rights Day this year prepares to shine a spotlight on the rights of all people – women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalised – and seeks to ensure their voices are heard in public life and political decision-making, it’s important we remind people that it was these historic moments, forged decades ago in the wake of terrible atrocities, that allow us some of the freedoms and rights we enjoy today.

  • This year Liberty will be marking Human Rights Day with the re-release of our Common Values in our Classrooms cinema advert featuring actors Riz Ahmed and Simon Callow. The short film demonstrates how human rights are applicable in everyday life and can be seen on selected performances of The Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger, Rise of the Guardians or Great Expectations up and down the country until January 3. You can also watch it on our new Common Values page here (