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International Human Rights Day in 2021

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December 10th is an international day for the annual celebration of human rights. This day commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948, which is described[1] as “a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

Each year, a particular theme is chosen to give dimension to this day. This year, the theme chosen relates to equality and Article 1 of the Declaration: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

At a time when the authoritarian policies of some governments around the world and the pressures of climate change have the potential to cause migratory crises and bloody conflicts, this fundamental concept of equality in dignity and rights is being seriously challenged.

The direct impact of climate change on the most vulnerable populations has long been documented. Climate change is destroying living environments and the resources necessary for people’s survival, so that millions of people are now at risk or are already climate refugees.

This has given rise to a movement of activism for the recognition of a right to a healthy environment, to which some international courts[2]  and expert committees have contributed (e.g. the U.N. Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment[3] on the right to life protected by Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, at paragraph 62).

The observance of International Human Rights Day is an opportunity to take stock of the efforts made – as states, individuals or corporations – to defend human rights. To take only the example of the right to a healthy environment, the emergence of the principles of corporate social and environmental responsibility indicates that awareness has already begun. However, corporate citizens must also recognize the financial and reputational value of improving their practices and defending the universal right to a healthy environment.

It is now clear that climate change will have transformative effects on the current business model in many industries (e.g., insurance, infrastructure, and real estate). As we approach the end of 2021, enhancing these efforts and implementing a real commitment to the protection of human rights is essential to keep the principles of international law enshrined over fifty years ago alive.