Where do human rights begin?

Originally written for the 2013 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study

“Where do universal human rights begin?” Eleanor Roosevelt’s question concerns the crowning achievement of her public service. In 1947 she chaired a United Nations committee of members from various political, cultural, and religious backgrounds charged with drafting a human rights declaration for all the world’s peoples.

Human Rights display at UN Over a year and 1,400 votes later, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. This landmark document represented the first international recognition that human rights and fundamental freedoms apply to every person, everywhere. The declaration provides a bulwark against oppression and discrimination and serves as the foundation of international human rights law. Sixty-five years after its adoption, it inspires people to protect and extend human rights around the world.

Where do universal human rights begin? Eleanor Roosevelt answers in practical terms. They begin in “the world of the individual person: the neighborhood [he or she] lives in; the school or college [she or he] attends; the factory, farm or office where [he or she] works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

For followers of Jesus, universal human rights begin in the affirmation that all people are made in God’s image with inherent worth and dignity. They begin in the biblical message of justice, freedom, and peace. They begin in Jesus’ call to love “God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37–39). They begin in the belief that every person deserves to live the abundant life proclaimed by Jesus.

As we live into God’s vision of justice and peace, as we love one another, we work for human rights in our homes, communities, schools, workplaces, country, and around God’s world. God grant us grace so to do today and every day.

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