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A Most Memorable Event

By: Charlotte Davis


Editor's Note: This speech was originally posted to the Pan Asia list on gender and communication. The writer is Charlotte Davis, a sixth-grade student who won a school-wide oratory contest with this entry, timed to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Art By: Olga Dunayeva
Art By: Olga Dunayeva

At 3:00 in the morning people are usually sleeping. I know I am. But on the morning of December 10, 1948, delegates from the United Nations General Assembly pushed aside their chairs to give a standing ovation to a single delegate, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not because she was the wife of the former President, but because through her tireless leadership, the United Nations General Assembly had just voted to pass a declaration that would change the world forever. This declaration was called the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

    This Declaration was written by an 18-member international delegation chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Its passage was the first time that all countries agreed that all people of the world, no matter where they came from, their background, their language, or their beliefs, and no matter where they lived in the world, had rights that no government could take away from them.

    No longer could any country pretend that torturing its people was all right. No longer could any country say that it was all right to deny the freedoms of religion and expression. No longer could any country demolish the freedom of speech without having the rest of the world say they were wrong in doing so.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists 30 different articles which include civil rights, economic rights, social rights, cultural and political rights. And those 30 articles have become the measure of how well individuals, countries, and communities throughout the world respect human rights.

    At 3 o'clock in the morning, when it was passed, no one thought the Declaration would ever be enforceable. But this December, we are now celebrating its 50th anniversary. And yes, it has made a great impact on the laws of every country in the world, including our own Civil Rights Movement. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Universal rights begin in small places, close to home."

    Now, these 30 articles in the Universal Declaration can be found in the constitutions of many nations. Prime ministers, presidents, judges, and lawyers have accepted this Declaration as their legal code. More recently, the principles in this Declaration helped the United Nations to keep peace in Bosnia, to help stop the war crimes in Somalia, to help restore the government in Haiti, and also to help defend the rights of all women and all minority groups around the world.

    This Declaration is universal. It is part of all international laws. In the past 50 years, people around the world have turned to the Declaration for protection and relief. It has protected the rights of people to think, to speak, and to believe.

    On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights shaped the lives for all people today and for all people in the future. And we are the future. We must remember that human rights begin with each one of us, in our classrooms, our clubs, our teams, our entire community. We must remember to protect the rights of others as we want others to protect our rights. We must remember to respect others as we want to be respected. We must remember to speak up and support our neighbor's rights and freedoms.

    Yes, let us remember to begin where Eleanor Roosevelt said to begin, in small places, close to home.

Thank you.


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