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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns 70

December 10, 2018

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Turns 70


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On December 10, 2018, Human Rights Day, we commemorate the 70 year anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Let’s backtrack: what was happening at the time? In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the atomic destruction in Japan, tens of millions of people had been killed, and tens of millions of others were displaced, or living in exiles. The leaders of the newly founded United Nations recognized the need to promote peace, and to define and protect people’s fundamental rights. Under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the Commission on Human Rights took on the task of creating a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UDHR remains significant as ever, as the contemporary world continues to face injustice, inequality, and human rights violations. This is all the more reason to remember concepts introduced in the document and to work toward upholding them in our daily lives.

It entails three articles focused on migration, and before we turn to the document, we would like to review certain definitions. Words matter — the language we use carries weight, and it is vital to be aware of the distinctions between key terms, and the implications of each.


The act of migration is moving from one place, country, locality to another. The UN’s most recent International Migration Report states that the number of international migrants reached 258 million in 2017. It is also important to remember that each year, millions of people migrate within their nations’ borders.


A migrant is someone who has moved away from their birthplace, within their countries or across international borders.


An immigrant is someone who chooses to move to a new country, often with the intention of living there permanently. The reasons behind immigration affect the degree of choice in their decisions to move. Some immigrants are granted federal recognition, while others are in limbo, or aren’t granted official recognition and remain undocumented. Examples of federal recognition include: temporary statuses, short-term visas, permanent residency and citizenship.


A refugee is someone who is forced to move to a new place, within or outside their countries, to escape danger or persecution. Reasons include: war, civil unrest, national disaster, famine, etc. In 1951, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) created the Refugee Convention, a legal framework that defined the term, and laid the foundation for future efforts toward the protection of refugees.

Internally displaced people:

Internally displaced people face dangerous situations in their home countries and remain under the protection of their government as they have not crossed a border to flee.


As they await national or federal recognition, refugees or displaced peoples can seek asylum in the countries they are presently residing in. They are often unable or unwilling to return to their native countries. Individuals who are seeking or have been granted asylum are asylees.

As we think about the UDHR at Re-Imagining Migration, we reflect on Articles 13-15, which highlight people’s rights to a nationality, movement, residence within state borders, and asylum.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

You can read the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights here.

How can educators help youth place the UDHR into today’s context?

Here are some questions to consider while introducing the document and its relevance to students. 

  • What are rights?
  • What do rights look like for us?
  • How are people’s rights met in our immediate community?
  • How are people’s rights met when they cross borders?
  • What prompts people to move?
  • Are people’s rights put in danger in the process of migration? How? Which ones?
  • Who is responsible for this?

Be intentional about creating room for open discussion with students. Created a lesson plan or framework to discuss the UDHR? Please don’t hesitate to share it with us, we’d love to hear from you!


Re-Imagining Migration
Re-Imagining Migration's mission is to advance the education and well-being of immigrant-origin youth, decrease bias and hatred against young people of diverse origins, and help rising generations develop the critical understanding and empathy necessary to build and sustain welcoming and inclusive... See More

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