Exchange Chambers celebrates International Human Rights Day 2021

December 10, 2021

Celestine Greenwood

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?

In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.

Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”

These iconic words were spoken by Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States of America and Chair of the Commission of the United Nations (later to be known as the UN Commission on Human Rights), in a speech given to mark the 10th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human  Rights (UDHR)[1].

Ironically, or perhaps obviously, these places that make up the world of the individual referred to by Eleanor Roosevelt in that famous speech are the places where gender-based violence lives and thrives wreaking misery and sometimes taking lives, the places where human rights are violated and abused.

It is fitting therefore that the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign which strives to end these human rights abuses comes to a conclusion today, 10th December, which is commemorated across the world as “Human Rights Day.”

Today is celebrated as Human Rights Day as it marks the date in 1948 when the General Assembly of the then fledgling United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, which has been translated into more than 500 languages, enumerates 30 principles, rights and fundamental freedoms that apply universally to each of us simply because we are human. The rights proclaimed in the Declaration encompass rights termed as “civil and political rights” such as the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment or treatment through a range of rights including those termed “economic, social and cultural rights” such as the right to work and the right to education . The adoption of the UDHR was the culmination of two years’ arduous work undertaken by a team of drafters drawn from different parts of the world and different religious, philosophical, and political traditions under the leadership and guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as intense diplomatic efforts.

The Declaration opens with Article 1 and the axiomatic statement, “All human beings are born free and equal.” This year the theme for Human Rights Day focuses on tha principle of equality with the clarion call “All Human, All Equal.”[2]

The Declaration was the foundation for two seminal human rights treaties both adopted in 1966, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[3] and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[4]. Together these three documents form the “international bill of human rights.”

Subsequently, the Declaration has been the foundational document and moral inspiration for approximately 70 human rights treaties including regional treaties such as the Convention for the  Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1950, also known as the “European Convention on Human Rights, and thematic legal documents to protect human rights such as the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, 2011, also known as the “Istanbul Convention.”

However, despite this multitude of legally binding documents and concerted efforts to give life to the aspirations for equality and dignity for all as the foundation of freedom, peace and justice enshrined in UDHR human rights violations, such as domestic abuse, continue to be endemic around the world.

The fight to realise that vision of equality and freedom for all in a world of freedom, peace and justice must go on. The fight to end gender-based violence must go on.

As Eleanor Roosevelt sagely went on to remark in that iconic speech, “Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Consequently the global 16 Days Campaign has challenged us as individuals and collectively as organisations and communities to concentrate and rededicate our commitment and efforts to eradicating gender-based violence in our places close to home, in our communal spaces such as Chambers and court centres, and in our private lives and spaces, our relationships and our homes.

With this mind I fervently hope that our efforts over the last 15 days have contributed to raising awareness about the issue of gender-based violence in its many forms and that they have invigorated us to fight this issue every day, not just for the 16 Days of the campaign.


[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[2] Stand Up for Human Rights

[3] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

[4] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights



United Nations: Human Rights Day

United Nations Human Rights: Stand Up for Human Rights

YouTube video: History of Human Rights