Marking two Human Rights anniversaries
The 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights are a landmark in the development of human rights and a source of inspiration for academic research on new global human rights issues.
On December 10, 2018 the international community celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Also in December of last year it was 25 years ago that the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights was established as a research institute of the Faculty of Law by founding fathers Prof Theo van Boven and Prof Cees Flinterman. In a way, both anniversaries are related in the sense of showing the importance of human rights protection and research in a global society.
The UDHR is a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations. The rights included serve as the normative framework aimed at protecting human dignity. It has been said that the universality concept has three dimensions: it entails that rights apply to everyone, always and everywhere. Human rights are essentially about inclusion of people instead of excluding them. Under the Charter of the UN States have an obligation to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights. However, universality of human rights is not about imposing ‘Western’ norms on other people, as some politicians and religious leaders tend to argue. Also universality of norms does not mean that a uniform application is required. A margin of appreciation, taking into account cultural differences, is acknowledged. There is also room for a process of universalizing human rights through a bottom-up process which may lead to cultural transformation. Universality is also about listening to the voices of victims and people in other countries and cultures and respect their individual opinions and choices, for example to wear a headscarf or niqab. Finger pointing to others without also looking at one’s own local human rights situation is not helpful in this regard. For example, there are good reasons to be humble when we look at how some European countries treat asylum-seekers and irregular migrants.
Research conducted by members of the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights has always been inspired by the spirit of the UDHR. Its Mission Statement stipulates that ‘the Centre aims to be at the cutting edge of global human rights research and to be forward looking in its choice of research themes’. In the past research themes tackled by the members of the Centre included rights of children and women from an interdisciplinary perspective, denial of human rights violations, corruption and human rights and methods of human rights research, to name just a few. The Centre is renowned internationally for its normative research on economic, social and cultural rights. Under the umbrella and auspices of the Centre a number of expert opinions have been drafted and agreed upon which have clarified the meaning and scope of economic, social and cultural rights in terms of the law as it is, and the law as it should be. One example are the Maastricht Principles on the Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2011). This expert opinion is an important contribution to the debate how human rights law can be used to mitigate the negative consequences of processes of (economic) globalization. For example, the Maastricht Principles have been a key source of inspiration for the drafting of General Comment No. 24 on State Obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Context of Business Activities (2017) by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Processes of economic globalization have perhaps led to more winners than losers, but at the same time levels of inequality between states and within states have risen, for example as a result of the technological revolution in a digital era. This has affected enjoyment of the right to work or the right to education in countries from the South and the North. Other examples include the effects of climate change on the human rights of present and future generations. In my view, responses to such global challenges should be informed by human rights obligations and responsibilities of key stakeholders. Recent developments in the world show the need for solid human rights research, not based on wishful thinking, but on a careful normative analysis and sound reasoning. The UDHR and the notion of universality of human rights will remain a beacon for academic research on new global human rights issues to be carried out by members of the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Centre, a seminar on the current significance of the concept of universality of human rights will take place on Friday afternoon, 15 February. This event will be organized in collaboration with students.
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