Activists on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 75

Seventy-five years ago today, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in response to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. The first document of its kind, developed by people from diverse backgrounds from around the world, declares that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The declaration’s 30 articles outline essential freedoms for a just society—from education and medical care to food and participation in elections.

Three-quarters of a century since the document’s signing, too many of these rights continue to elude us, as wars are raging, not everyone has the right to marry, authoritarian leaders hold onto power and more. But there has also been progress. The UDHR has served as a global moral compass, catalyzing over 70 conventions and treaties on a range of issues, including civil and political rights, torture, violence against women and the rights of children.

We asked AJWS experts and human rights activists around the world to reflect on progress toward achieving universal human rights and their hopes for a more just future. Here’s what they had to say:

Robert Bank, President and CEO of AJWS:

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is words on a page. Human rights activists around the world breathe life into it and are bringing us closer to a world where the rights it enumerates are a reality for every person.”


Alejandra Burgos, leader with Red Salvadoreña de Defensoras de DDHH, on reproductive rights:

“The young feminist and trans-feminist movements are great sources of inspiration and hope. This movement [for reproductive rights] goes beyond our own lives. We are not the first ones in this struggle, and we will not be the last ones.”


Daniel Kobei, executive director of Ogiek Peoples Development Programme, on Indigenous rights:

“We hope that we [Indigenous people] will achieve self-determination, as far as our way of living is concerned. We want to make our own decisions about our lives and have our own leadership.”


Tracey Gurd, Senior Director of Civil and Political Rights and Advocacy at AJWS:

“Even on its 75th anniversary, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights still retains the capacity to inspire us with its compassionate, just and inclusive vision for humanity—and to be a salve at this moment of intense polarization, violence and division around the globe.  The UDHR remains a core guiding light for our work at AJWS as we embrace its beautiful blueprint for justice, equality and dignity for all people, everywhere.”


Rati “Note” Taesombat, co-founder of Thai Transgender Alliance, on LGBTQI+ rights:

“We’re helping people fight for their lives, for [LGBTQI+] equality. We don’t talk about winning or losing. We talk about changing society.”