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December 11, 2013

International Human Rights Day 2013: A Day for Reflection

by Asylum Access

Sixty-five years ago today in Paris, France, the United Nations General Assembly adopted one of modern history’s most influential documents, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), thereby laying the foundation for a global framework of rights which honor freedom, justice and dignity for all human beings.

The effect that the UDHR has had upon the world’s legal systems – national, regional and international – has been profound. Its principles have been absorbed by a range of national constitutions and have laid the basis for a multitude of legally binding human rights treaties. Before the Right to Work was enshrined in many national frameworks and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it was recognized by Article 23 of the UDHR:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Despite the extraordinary role that the UDHR has played in the recognition of universal human rights, there is still much work to be done to ensure that these rights are observed in practice and applied to all persons without discrimination, including refugee populations. As Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, commented:

“The fundamentals for protecting and promoting human rights are largely in place:  these include a strong and growing body of international human rights law and standards, as well as institutions to interpret the laws, monitor compliance and apply them to new and emerging human rights issues.

The key now is to implement those laws and standards to make enjoyment of human rights a reality on the ground. The political will, and the human and financial resources, to achieve this are too often lacking.”

As we celebrate International Human Rights Day today and commemorate the adoption of the UDHR, let us reflect not just on where we have been, but where we must go from here.  Refugees who are systematically denied the right to work in their country of asylum – often for decades on end – deserve to have their economic rights fulfilled by the governments that have committed to observe these rights under international law. Human rights are the access point for a free and democratic society; the time has come for governments to give more than merely lip service to these principles.

Anna Wirth is the Global Policy Fellow at Asylum Access. She  previously studied and practiced law in Melbourne, Australia (Monash University) and received her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA) from EIUC, in partnership with University of Helsinki.


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