Human Rights Day: a day to celebrate

Article: 09.12.20, Amsterdam, Ariette Brouwer

Today (10th of December) is Human Rights Day. A day that might pass you by, as one of the many ‘international awareness days’. Human rights might be an abstract notion to you, something that – although important – does not have a place in your everyday life. I understand.

And yet, it should mean something to you. It should be an important concept in your life, and this day should be a day to celebrate and to commemorate. Because the human rights framework – a framework of rights given to you simply because you are human – is one of the most beautiful we have devised as an international community.


Ariette Brouwer
Ariette Brouwer Managing Director Simavi
It starts with the fact that these are human rights: rights for all humans. This means that nothing, and I mean nothing at all, can take these rights away from you

Human rights: rights for all humans

It does not matter which religion you have, whether you are male or female, where you were born and whether you are poor or rich: these rights you have, and these rights you will have until the day you die.

Next is the fact that all states have an obligation to respect your rights. This means that if your rights are not being upheld, you are able to hold your government accountable, no matter whether they feel responsible or not. The international community as a whole has, by creating and signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the different laws and international treaties that followed, declared that these rights are essential to a free and dignified life for all. In practice this means citizens have been able to successfully advocate for their right to equality and non-discrimination, for instance.

The mere fact that human rights are universal also means they are the perfect basis for much of our work. Since they have been agreed upon by all states together, no-one is able to tell us we cannot do our work. Human rights are applicable to everyone, and we simply work on helping people fulfil some of those rights, such as the right to water and sanitation, and sexual and reproductive rights. It also means we are able to circumvent cultural norms or religious beliefs, since however important they may be to people, they can never trump the fact that a human is entitled to his or her rights.

The right to water and sanitation

Since the start of the human rights system, much has changed. One of the latest additions has been on 28 July 2010, when the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. An important development in itself and for our work, since these rights are inseparably linked to the right to health. This is why we worked together with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to safe drinking Water and Sanitation during the 10-year celebration year.

Important as well has been the development of first the Millennium Development Goals (2000), and after that the Sustainable Development Goals (2015). Rather than just a political framework, these are practical and active goals to improve peoples’ lives for the better, all over the word. They are still however, very much based upon and anchored in human rights.

Leave no one behind

For Simavi, one of the key principles of our work is based upon both human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals: the concept of Leaving no one Behind. This is about the fact that we want to make sure everyone is able to take part in society equally, and everyone is able to enjoy his or her rights. In reality however, many groups are being left behind and discriminated against, because of their gender, age, physical or mental ability, race, ethnicity, health/economic/education/marital status, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Even when countries as a whole are doing better, these people are still being marginalised.

To conclude: let’s celebrate this amazing achievement available to us! But even so, to me, celebrating Human Rights Day and the 10-year anniversary of the Rights to Water and Sanitation does go hand in hand with an important responsibility: continue to work on including everyone, and ensuring no one is left behind.

Happy human rights day!

Ariette Brouwer

This year we continued our work on WASH with our new WASH First programme, and launched a campaign around World Toilet Day to advocate the rights to water and sanitation, since till this day 4.2 billion people still don’t have access to safe

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