10 December is commemorated annually as International Human Rights Day. The date has particular significance, as it is the date on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The UDHR was born following the end of World War II and recognises that everyone is entitled to fundamental human rights protection. The UDHR articulates and enumerates universal inalienable rights such as equality and dignity, regardless of grounds like race, colour, religion, sex, national or social origin. While it is not a binding document, the UDHR is the foundation for over 60 human rights instruments across the world, including the South African Constitution.
10 December also happens to be the culmination of the United Nation’s annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. During these 16 days, society is urged to ponder upon the scourge of gender-based violence and to consistently speak up against it, act against it and advocate for victims and survivors. The devastating irony is that in South Africa, in the middle of this awareness campaign, the reports of missing or murdered women and children continued to pour in. It is therefore apt that this day calls for a reflection on what it means to be a human rights bearer and the history of disenfranchisement that far too many communities of vulnerable people have yet to overcome. The poor protection record permeates more than just gender-based violence and is not limited to South Africa.