2017 Human Rights Day
Professor Boggio’s reflections in occasion of the celebration the 2017 Human Rights Day.
Every year, on December 10, we celebrate one of the great achievements of the 20th century: The codification of human rights at the international level. The 20th century was certainly a violent century, fraught with terrible conflicts, genocides, and many other instances of what we now refer to as violations of international criminal law.
This amount of violence of consistent does not contradict what Steven Pinker has argued in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Although widespread and significant, violence has been slowly declining. I believe that the codification of human rights can be understood as part of this downward trend of violence—as an intentional and collective effort to prevent further violence. In the past year, I have been reading more on the genesis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of my research on a forthcoming book (with co-author Cesare Romano) on the human right to science (I recommend Mary Ann Glendon’s A World Made New).
In their public service, these individuals were able to set aside their personal differences (which were substantial) and their egos to produce something that has become much larger than they could imagine. In fact, one vivid impression that I have gathered from researching this process is that, while this group of people was determined and ambitious, they were probably not able to fully appreciate how consequential their contribution would be. Perhaps, this worked to their advantage: this prevented them from being burdened by their legacy and to stay focused on the task at hand. Their story is refreshing and inspiring as we face the global challenges of our generation.The genesis of the Declaration is a story of the international community coming together at one of the darkest moments of the century to imagine a better world in which the rule of law would be stronger than ideology and curb organized violence. The process that led to the adoption of the Declaration was not an easy one. The dawn of the Cold War posed a serious obstacle to collective action. Yet, I am amazed by the vision and willpower of the members of the Drafting Committee (Humphrey, Roosevelt Cassin, Malik, Chang and Metha) who worked tirelessly to build a Declaration that became acceptable to the most without compromising its spirit and goals.