Words to action

Published On: December 11, 2017 12:29 AM NPT By: Valerie Julliand

The elections are just a first step in achieving a larger goal of strengthening accountability and democracy in Nepal

This year, on International Human Rights Day, we embarked on a year-long celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a monumental document for each and every one of us, and its proclamation an epic moment for free nations and peoples. It recognized, for the first time in history, the inherent dignity, and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, setting the foundation for freedom, justice and peace in the world.

The rights laid out in the declaration state that we are all born free and equal in dignity and rights. The universal declaration spells out without ambiguity the economic, social, political, cultural and civil rights that underpin a life free from want and fear. The power of the universal declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. The 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights is a renewed call to not only celebrate its letter, but also to make sure that we speak up and act to fulfill the spirit of the declaration. 

Just the start 
Nepal has made great strides in addressing human rights issues. For example, it was one of the first countries in Asia to recognize the third gender, and has demonstrated willingness to end gender-based violence and inequity. Nepal also addressed caste-based discrimination in its laws, but the words of human rights need now to translate into action. In Nepal, it means that there should be no difference between castes, that no one should be barred entry to a temple or access to a water tap based on their caste, and that every Nepali has equal access to education and employment and all other rights regardless of their gender, class, religion or caste.

We need to support the rights of the children and women who are subjected to denigrating treatment, whether it be child marriage, child labor, chhaupadi, gender based violence or any other form of violation of a person’s right to live freely and with dignity. We need to support the rights of migrant workers to ensure that their human rights are respected on every step of their journey. We need to support the rights of those who have lost their homes due to earthquakes or floods and do not have adequate roof over their heads. We need to support the rights of those who lost loved ones during the conflict that ended over a decade ago. 

Nepal is well on its way to covering the ambitious path laid out in the 2015 constitution, with the local, provincial and federal elections held this year paving the way towards federalization. But the elections are just a first step in achieving a larger goal of strengthening accountability and democracy in Nepal. Having newly elected representatives at all three levels of government is an opportunity for renewed and strengthened commitment to advancing basic human rights in all corners of the country. Human rights are the responsibility of the government, but they also are the duty of every member of the Nepali community. Human rights are about each one of us standing up, raising our voice and using our rights to protect other people’s rights.

Driver for change 
If Nepal is to prosper and live up to the aspirations of its people, it cannot afford to leave anyone behind. This means looking beyond our own spheres to stand up for those who are marginalized and less able to speak up for themselves. Nepal has, along with the rest of the world, committed to an ambitious development agenda in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which can be considered the world’s ‘to-do-list’ of ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all members of the society. Human rights are an integral and indispensable element of this agenda and a driver for realizing the SDGs. 

This coming year, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with the rest of the world, I invite you to stand up, take action and join the global movement for stronger respect, greater freedom and more compassion.  

The author is UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal

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