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Human Rights Day 2019

On Human Rights Day (December 10), we celebrate the anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. This momentous document sets out fundamental universal human rights, that are to be protected worldwide, regardless of race, ethnicity or culture.


At the United Nations, I attended an event hosted by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) titled ‘Celebrating Human Rights Day: Youth standing up for human rights.’ In his introductory remarks, Andrew Gilmour (Assistant Secretary-General) spoke to the “sustained and sometimes ferocious pushback against the entire global human rights agenda that we haven’t seen before.” In his address, he highlighted growing ‘hate speech and prejudice’ towards migrants and minorities. During a later panel discussion consisting of youth delegates, panelist Fatou “Toufah” Jallow, a 23 year old activist from The Gambia, spoke about the sexual violence she experienced. She detailed having to leave her home country temporarily to retain her safety before she was able to seek justice and return.


According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), today there are an estimated 272 million international migrants globally. ‘Whilst not all migrants are inherently vulnerable, many are vulnerable to human rights violations’ (UNDESA). Many migrants are forced to move for various reasons; governmental oppression, war, famine, climate change, to seek better employment or educational opportunities. The list goes on. Of the 272 million international migrants, 2019 datasets indicating one in seven are below the age of 20, with Sub-Saharan Africa hosting the highest proportions followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, West Africa and North Africa. At these age groups, the dangers of human rights violations are exponentially increased due to; disruptions of education, food insecurity, sexual violence just to name a few.


During the 41st session of the Human Rights Council this year, the report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Felipe González Morales, highlighted the need for migration to be understood as a “gendered phenomenon”, enabling member states to better protect the rights of migrant women and girls from gender-based discrimination, abuse and violations at each stage of their journey.


In 2017, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a social message on Human Rights, advocating for the “staggering number of God’s children that have not experienced this advancement [of human rights].” As Christians, we all have a common identity as children of a loving God, who calls us to reflect his love outwards, acting in compassion for our fellow neighbor. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) see migrants as humans, as people most in need of our compassion both as individuals and as a community. These organizations work with migrants from all around the world with aide, respect and inclusivity. We are called to embrace all migrants as they flee from dangerous situations or seek out a better life for themselves and their loved ones.


In support of their rights, at the Lutheran Office for World Community (joint ministry of both ELCA & LWF), we attend various UN processes as part of the NGO Committee on Migration and the Civil Society Action Committee, monitor UN events and meetings on Migration and advocate for policies at the UN that will afford these migrants the life of dignity and freedom they deserve.


Written by Rebecca Anderson, Lutheran Office for World Community.

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