Climate and Food Justice and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Part of UN Sunday

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, articulating for the first time ever the human rights that every person on Earth possesses, no matter their place or status of birth. It is important to acknowledge the UDHR during a UN Sunday service on climate and food justice because many of the rights listed in the declaration are threatened by the current crisis and must be respected, protected, and fulfilled in order for justice to be achieved. Read the full UDHR. Some articles that explicitly relate to this year’s theme are: (edited for gender-inclusive language)

Article 1

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of [siblinghood]."

Article 1 violated: The right to equal dignity and rights belongs to all human beings, and yet this right is violated when extractive industries are given priority over human life and well-being, and when companies have more sway over governments’ environmental and food policies than do the people who are most affected.

Article 17

"(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of [their] property."

Article 17 violated: In many places around the world, Indigenous communities on the frontlines to protect their land or water have had this right violated by governments allied with extractive industries that seek to exploit those natural resources, in violation of treaty agreements and human rights. Treaties recognize the Indigenous sovereignty over certain lands and waters which must be respected by governments. However, we also acknowledge that this capitalist mindset of land or water as property is both misguided (no one can own pieces of the planet that is our collective home) and extremely harmful (resulting in pollution and destruction).

Article 25

"(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [themself] and of [their] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond [their] control."

Article 25 violated: Food apartheid and the climate crisis prevent many communities’ access to adequate food that promotes health and well-being. Pollution, contamination, and natural disasters have rendered land, water, and air unsafe for living and for farming. Yet authorities often neglect the needs of these communities, thus violating their right to health and well-being.

Further Reading on our blog: Human Rights Day in an unjust world (written Dec. 2016—but still relevant) addresses the cognitive dissonance involved with marking a human rights holiday as the world draws further away from recognizing and honoring the human rights of all.