Human Rights Day 1973: The “Liberation” of the Universal Declaration

While the 1970s have been, properly, identified by recent scholarship as a moment of efflorescence for universal human rights, the picture, at least in the earlier part of the decade, was less than radiant.  The Universal Declaration’s twenty-fifth anniversary was, for the most part, submerged – much more thoroughly so than it had been at ten, or even at twenty.  The occasion was instead the platform to launch the International Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.   At the Plenary meeting which ratified the decision in October 1972, a few minutes were devoted to the agenda item on a “Programme for the observance of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – which was concluded rapidly, to allow for hours of rhetoric on national liberation, racial discrimination, and the importance of armed struggle in southern Africa and, on Cuba’s insistence, Puerto Rico. It was the most striking symbolic representation of the relationship between universal human rights, anti-racism, and violent insurrection.  The struggle against racial discrimination, a sub-set of a much broader human rights concept, had almost consumed the parent category.  1948 was cited insofar as it underwrote the crusade, rarely much further. Continue reading