UN Report

UN Report: Observances and Celebrations Promote

The goals of these observances involve a combination of focusing actions on salient social, political, cultural, and humanitarian topics as well as informing the public about international issues of concern at the United Nations.

By Neal S. Rubin, PhD

With a view to promoting understanding, action and international cooperation, the General Assembly, UN Agencies and the Secretary General have designated observances throughout the year that celebrate individual human rights themes. Depending upon the aims of the resolutions that declare them, these themes are organized as international days, weeks, years and decades. The goals of these observances, therefore, involve a combination of focusing actions on salient social, political, cultural and humanitarian topics as well as informing the public about international issues of concern at the United Nations.

In 1950 General Assembly Resolution 423 (V) established the first international day as Human Rights Day and it has been observed on the tenth of December each year, the date that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was signed in 1948. Last December was the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the UDHR, a foundational document that has now been translated into 360 languages. Human Rights Day celebrations included briefings, student conferences, a human rights dialogue series, exhibitions, film screenings and a performance by Daniel Barenboim and his West- Eastern Divan Quintet. On this day the 2008 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights was awarded to: Ms. Louise Arbour, Mr. Ramsey Clark, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Human Rights Watch. Mrs. Benazir Bhutto and Sr. Dorothy Stang were awarded the prize posthumously.

Since 1950 a series of international days have been designated throughout the year. Currently, the first observance each year is on January 27: the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (Resolution 60/7). The General Assembly chose this date because it is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A subsequent resolution (61/255) provides a formal rejection by the General Assembly of any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event. This international day was first observed in 2006. The ceremony was attended by over 2200 people and viewed by webcast and television all over the world. Among the events associated with this day of commemoration was a briefing for the NGO community that included an address by Professor Judea Pearl the father of journalist Daniel Pearl who was brutally beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan. Mr. Pearl's evocative speech focused on appeals for compassion, mutual understanding and reconciliation among people of diverse religious faiths. In honor of his son's memory, he has created a foundation which includes the Daniel Pearl Dialogues for Muslim – Jewish Understanding.

December 20th marks the final observance of the year: International Human Solidarity Day. Launched in 2006, this observance calls for coordinated efforts between individuals, communities, organizations and institutions to address the Millennium Development Goals via human solidarity. The keynote speaker at the initial celebration was H. E. Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the historically renowned ‘Solidarity' movement. In his remarks Walesa sketched out the role of human solidarity in the surprising success of the movement he led in Poland for worker's rights and emphasized the promise that human global solidarity might hold as a movement to address worldwide human rights and development challenges. Speakers from Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil and Burkina Faso followed fleshing out how community and international cooperation between peoples and nations in their regions and around the world might promote global solidarity in achieving progress on the Millennium Development Goals.

Other observances are organized over longer time periods, weeks, years and decades. For example, Disarmament Week is observed each year during the week of October 24th coinciding with the anniversary of the founding of the UN. From a General Assembly Special Session, Resolution S/10/2 designates a week each year devoted to bringing attention to the risks of nuclear war and the necessity for international cooperation in addressing nuclear proliferation. During this week the UN community is charged with organizing programs that promote public understanding of the status of world militarization and the risks associated with the arms race.

The International Year of Astronomy is being celebrated this year (Resolution 62/200). Initiated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), an impressive array of informational resources will be disseminated throughout the year and throughout the globe which foster understanding of the role of astronomy and other sciences in promoting the UN mission in everyday lives. Central to these programs will be articulating the accomplishments and future potential of science to contribute to the safety, security, and equality of citizens and to the sustainable development of communities worldwide.

An observance of an international decade may be designated when the General Assembly identifies a need for longer term determined efforts to address a global issue. The specific aims and the methods to follow progress over the decade are defined and accountability is monitored by a designee of the Secretary General.

At times an era greater than a decade is required for progress and programs of implementation to attain the aims of the General Assembly. In these circumstances, additional decades may be called for. For example, the General Assembly designated 1993-2003 as the Decade of the World's Indigenous People (Resolution 48/163) and in 2004 adopted Resolution 59/174 for a Second International Decade to begin in 2005. Spanning this period of time has been the development of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, first drafted in 1993, adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2006 and ratified by the General Assembly in 2007. This Declaration guarantees the world's indigenous populations all rights defined by the UN Charter, by the UDHR and all international laws. It defines that among these rights are guarantees to live in dignity and to have the integrity of indigenous cultures and traditions respected and maintained. Progress on the aims of the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People is followed by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Overall then, observances play a significant role in the United Nations to inform, to celebrate and to mobilize action on an array of challenges facing the world community. For a comprehensive list of United Nations observances and the resolutions by the General Assembly that designate them: http://www.un.org/observances. Ψ