Once the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written and adopted, the rights laid out within it became much more concrete; the need arose to enforce and secure those rights. The activities below will help students understand the challenges and complexities of acting when human rights are violated. Students will reflect on how the articles of the UDHR can and should be enforced, and discuss the logistics of enforcing and securing those human rights promised by the UDHR.
This lesson is part of Facing History and Ourselves Universal Deceleration of Human Rights collection and part of a series of lessons about the declaration. Use this lesson after students have read the UDHR to facilitate a conversation about the how human rights ought to be defended and secured.
A. Securing Rights
After reviewing the thirty articles that make up the UDHR, consider which you think are easier to secure? Which are the most challenging to secure?
For example Article 25 states:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
What rights does the article hope to secure? How would you measure progress on those rights? Should all countries be held to the same standards?
B. Top Three
Some critics argue that if the UDHR had fewer articles, they would be easier to enforce. Review the 30 articles and choose two or three that seem the most important. If these articles had to be turned into laws, which would be the easiest to enforce? How could they be enforced? Who would have to be involved? What systems would be needed to determine if they were being violated? What would you do with people who violated these laws?
C. A World Police Force
Benjamin Ferencz, former prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, has worked to create structures to preserve world peace. As a consultant to the United Nations, he has also thought about the issue of enforcement with regard to the UN and the UDHR. Ferencz writes:
In every society there will always be law-breakers who will take the law into their own hands-regardless of economic sanctions or other attempts to restrain them by non-violent means. Those willing to use force will almost always prevail over those who are unwilling or unable to do so. International force may thus be needed as the ultimate guardian of peace...An international police force, under effective UN control-as envisaged in the [UN] Charter-is the best safeguard for world tranquility. But the UN must be given the means to do the job.
Engage in a conversation about this issue. What do you think about his suggestion that we should have a United Nations police force? What are his arguments for this? What might be the arguments against his idea? Why might his suggestion be controversial? How do you resolve the dilemmas between the right to national sovereignty and the enforcement of human rights?