Song & Story
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.
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
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
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.