Your own Universal Declaration of Human Rights

An exercise in understanding

Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights & Health in Asia-Pacific by USAID Asia CC BY-NC 2.0

Hands up if you’ve read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There’s even an illustrated version. If you haven’t read it, now is the time. Go do it now.

Do you agree or disagree? Sort of agree? Agree except you wish it said this or that? What would you add? What would you remove?

Here’s the idea: Write your very own universal declaration of human rights. After you do that, perhaps take the next step and share it with people, maybe a post on Medium. This idea came from a conversation with Zak Storer, and I think it’s an important exercise for everyone.

But before you head off to do that, there are a few things I’d like to add:

At the most basic, I’m asking you to answer the question: Do you agree that there are certain rights that all people share?

No one gives us our rights. Our rights exist because we exist, and there’s no legitimate basis to assert that our rights don’t exist. Our own rights don’t justify depriving others of their rights.

A government does not give, withhold, or take away our rights, but may respect or violate our rights. We may choose to codify or enshrine our rights in constitutions and laws in order to create an orderly and just governing system.

Doing so makes society work better, for example, by limiting predation of certain members of society on other members, or limiting war between different social groups. But to be absolutely clear, our rights exist independent of this codification, and during war or peace.

As humans have progressed from pre-literate to more sophisticated social organization, we see generally a progression of viewpoint about human rights. But this progression is not giving us our rights, and nothing guarantees that this progression does not experience regression. Various societies have been more tolerant of a wide variation in behavioral norms and other societies have been much less tolerant. Some tolerant societies have become intolerant, as well as the reverse.

Many of us believed that after The Holocaust, these ideas were settled and we did not need to be constantly and vigorously vigilant against vile, sociopathic forces that would try to destroy our societies. We were wrong.

Don’t make the mistake we did. Don’t let us keep making this mistake. Learn. Communicate. Commit to Universal Human Rights. Organize to defend and protect them.