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Remembering Our Inalienable Rights: the 53rd Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 1948)

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2001 at 06:45 AM CT

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United NationsThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a stellar roadmap, which addresses fundamental aspects of individual dignity. The 53rd anniversary of its adoption gives cause for its global celebration. What could be more fitting than for Assyrians to share in this observance by becoming more familiar with a document which affirms common human values and which supports fundamental rights?

The obvious deserves to be restated. All human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms. The United Nations is committed to upholding promoting and protecting the human rights of every individual; its founding Charter reaffirms the faith of the peoples of the world in honouring such rights and in respecting the dignity and worth of each human being.

Through its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations stated in clear, simple and eloquent terms, the rights which belong to everyone of us. Because these are our rights, we each have an interest and a responsibility in familiarizing ourselves with them. In this way, we will be better equipped to help promote and defend them for ourselves, as individuals and as nation, and for our fellow human beings.

Who will dispute that there is no life in fullness without human rights? The thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim in clear and simple terms the rights which belong equally to every person on this earth. Your rights can be restricted only in limited circumstances, such as to protect other people's rights . No person or state may use any of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Right to justify undermining the rights to which we are all entitled.

Some fifty years ago, the world said 'never again' to the atrocities of the Second World War. All human beings have rights that should be respected in all circumstances. In this Universal Declaration, governments (including those of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey where Assyrians homeland exists) promised they would inform their citizens about these rights and seek to protect and promote them. Sadly, few know what this document contains; even fewer have seen a copy. Yet, the Declaration is supposed to be made available worldwide. In a sense, therefore, this is an invitation for you to discover 'the world's best kept secret.'

This document was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations and proclaimed on December 10, 1948. Following this historic act, the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicise the text of the declaration and 'to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expanded principally in schools and other educational institutes, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories'.

Governments have not only failed to distribute the Universal Declaration, but as we well know, some have even argued that it is not relevant to their country, culture or political situation. Half of the world's countries still jail people solely because of their beliefs, race, gender or ethnic origin, and a third of the world's governments torture their prisoners.

In 1948, the United Nations called on governments to use every means within their power to distribute the text to their citizens, and to ensure that the Universal Declaration is displayed in schools and colleges everywhere in as many languages as possible. Have you ever seen it in a school? Or, as Assyrians who are in dire need of such rights, have we ever displayed in our clubs?. Have our intellectuals, political parties and national organisations ever discussed? Have we ever tried to translate it into Assyrian language and published in our magazines and newspapers?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the basic international statement of the inalienable and inviolable rights of all members of the human family. It is intended to serve as "the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" in the effort to secure universal and effective recognition and observance of the rights and freedoms it lists.

The Declaration is accepted almost universally as a gauge by which Governments can measure their progress in the protection of human rights. In United Nations organs, the Declaration has an authority surpassed only by the charter . It is invoked constantly not only in the General Assembly, but also in the Security Council and other organs. It is quoted in international legal instruments, including the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950), the Japanese Peace Treaty (1951), the Special Statute for the status of Trieste (1954), the Constitution of the Organisation of African Unity (1963), and the Final Document of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (1975), signed at Helsinki by 35 States. It is invoked in a score of national constitutions. It is inspired and sometimes become part of many countries national legislation, and has been cited with approval in national courts. What follows is the document itself.

We must make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a document with relevance for today, a document with the power to change our lives, one that hold our governments accountable for the way they treat us. If we are to avoid in the next 50 years the atrocities we have seen in the last 100 years, we must stand up for our rights and make our governments treat us with respect we are entitled to.

As Assyrians, inevitably we must reflect on the quality of our own commitment. While this Declaration spells out our rights, how do we evaluate our efforts in defending them in our homeland, Bet Nahrain (Mesopotamia)? Are we doing what is necessary to preserve our national identity in the Diaspora?

The Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, which is based on the Human Rights Declaration, issued by UNESCO in 1978 reiterates our right as Assyrian individuals to belong to the Assyrian nation, to be different, to consider ourselves as different, and to be regarded as such. No one on earth, no matter his or her station in life, can deprive us of our right to be Assyrian. Does each of us believe in standing up for what we think is right? Does each of us believe that standing up for our Assyrian identity is our right? If so, then our defense of such rights should be unequivocal. Neither the Universal Declaration nor international law will protect the rights of anyone who simply remains silent and on the sideline. These magnificent documents can help us if first we help ourselves by claiming our rights, by standing up for and raising our voices against human rights abuse.

A special tip of the hat to our beloved Assyrians in the Homeland and the thoughtful manner in which they celebrated the golden jubilee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10, 1998). By design, they selected the same date for the official opening of the first intermediary Syriac School, Nisibin (in Nohadra – Dohuk), a landmark event in our modern history, and a vivid affirmation of our inalienable right to teach our own language to our children.

Let us as Assyrians who believe that standing up for their national identity is our right, take the 53rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an occasion to become more familiar with its contents, to know our legitimated rights, to affirm our inalienable rights. To do so, let us display its thirty articles in our clubs; let us place it in our magazines and internet sites. Let our Intellectuals study it and seek its applications for Assyrian national rights. Let our political parties and national organizations discuss it and carry out rallies and round table talks in order to be equipped with a legal instrument in their struggle for our national rights. Let all of us show to the world’s nations that we are caring and concerning about our national rights. Let us affirm and act unanimously, by word and deed, that we are Assyrians and no one on earth can deprive us of our right to be so. Who will then dare regard us as a forgotten nation or mischaracterize us as Arabs or Kurds.

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