In 2018, the World celebrates 70 years since Eleanor Roosevelt elevated the freshly signed Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR from now on). Shortly after the atrocities of the Second World War, this document was considered a milestone in the history of humanity. Since then, the document - albeit not having a binding force on governments – has helped in the creation of other human rights declarations, constitutions, and other laws. The document faces much criticism, such as its western bias, but the praises are highly outweighing the criticism. To this day, this is the United Nation’s most important document.
In the following paragraphs I will discuss every potential right that has been proposed in the last 70 years and analyse the need and the possibility of its addition to the Convention.
2. The potential addition of rights
2.1 The right to clean water
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, the United Nations launched the ‘Dignity and justice for all of us’ campaign to celebrate the document. In parallel with this, there was a petition called ‘Article 31’ which advocated for the addition of clean water as a fundamental right to the UDHR. Article 25 already implements the right to food, clothing, housing and medical care, but inexplicably the right to clean water is missing. This petition wanted to change the definition of clean water from privilege to right. ‘Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance’. In 2010, the UN recognized the right to water as a fundamental right through Resolution 64/292, but it has not been added to the UDHR since. One can argue that this problem has been solved in 2010, albeit not being added to the Convention; this right is now guaranteed by the UN.
2.2 The right to Internet access
This issue is easy to sustain, given the fact that a 2012 survey made by the Internet Society proves that over 80% of those involved thought that internet access should be considered a basic human right. In 2016 the UN amended Article 19, which provides the right to freedom of expression, and added the right to internet access. Specifically, the amendment wanted to protect the same right offline and online too. This change to the UDHR is still a ‘soft law’, like the rest of the document, – that is why it does not have binding force; but it does condemn the blocking of internet access in States, thus being an extremely useful factor in those countries which use Internet blocking for political purposes. Only 32 countries in the world are extremely resistant to Internet disconnection because they have more than 40 providers, but on the other end we can find for example Syria, which does use Internet blocking during protests (June 2011 and November 2012 are just two examples).
2.3 LGBTQ rights
In December 2011, celebrating the Human Rights Day, Hillary Clinton, the United States Secretary of State at that time, told reporters that one of the remaining human rights challenges the world faces today is guaranteeing the equality and dignity of members of the LGBT community. One can argue, that Article 2: ‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind’ already includes the LGBTQ community and their rights, yet in many countries that have ratified the treaty, same sex marriage remains illegal. We can clearly see the fact that this cannot be yet added as the 31st right, but recent developments, such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality in over 30 countries in the last 20 years leads to a promising path.
2.4 Right to a healthy environment
‘Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the global recognition of this right and the provision of effective remedies are now a matter of utmost urgency for frontline communities exposed to climate-induced impacts, environmental defenders, and vulnerable groups exposed to toxic and hazardous substances. It is time for the Human Rights Council to act urgently on the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation and move toward recognizing the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.’ These are the words of Professor John Knox, who was the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment. In March 2018, 24 Latin American and Caribbean nations signed a pact on environmental rights that will oblige the states to protect land defenders. Albeit human rights and environmental laws have long been separate fields, the Special Rapporteur urges the UN for a resolution, this way the pressure would be increased on countries to take the necessary steps.
2.5 Right to refuse to kill
Article 18 of the treaty already guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, but this does not include the right to be a conscientious objector (CO), an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military services. Being a CO is a guaranteed right in the European Union. The European Convention of Human Rights does guarantee this right (‘The right to conscientious objection is recognised, in accordance to the national laws governing the exercise of right’). This can be based on religious, humanitarian or political grounds and assures the individuals’ choice to not take part in military service. One might believe that the armed forces in Europe are a thing of the past, but the 2008 European’s Bureau of Conscientious Objection report proves that many European countries still imprison and persecute those who make this choice. Among these countries, Turkey still refuses to recognise COs, their criminal code stating in Art. 318 that ‘alienating people from the military duty shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to two years’. This way, the right to conscientious objection, alias the right to refuse to kill is a long way from becoming a fundamental human right, especially with the recent increase in military action.
As we look into our future, we have to re-evaluate the present rights written in the Convention and amend them to better suit the future; not letting them become obsolete should become a key priority. Recent trends like artificial intelligence or gene-manipulation are new areas of science that lack a concrete legal background, that’s why it is the UN’s responsibility to take the initiative. Looking back on the last 70 years, Human Rights have gone a long way, and helped making the world a better place. The individual rights that -were discussed in the article are the ones which need the closest attention in the upcoming decades, to ensure the side by side evolution of humanity and its human rights.
By Bence Antonya
This article was originally published in issue 6.2 of the magazine, which can be accessed here. All references used can be found at the end of that issue.