Human Rights Day 2022 – Q&A Erik Lumens – Amsterdam

In the course of this week, counting down to Human Rights Day on December 10th, we will be contributing to the awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by sharing a piece of its history and achievements and shed a light on one or more of its articles through a personal view of one of our members in the 5 countries we are present in.

The UDHR, from the view of Erik Lumens, associate in Amsterdam:

  1. When was the first time you have learned about the UDHR and in which context?

The first time I learned about the UDHR or at least did something active with it, was in primary school. I remember that I found it reassuring in some way that these rights exist, but also a bit confusing; here was a document that stipulates all the rights that each person in the world has (including for example enough food and shelter to ascertain one can live a healthy life), while in fact, not everyone can always benefit from these rights.

  1. How would you describe the UDHR in only three words?

“Collection of rights” is probably not a good answer to this question. I think depending on in what context you ask this question, a more suitable answer would either be “taken for granted” or “highlights inherent injustices”. In my daily life, I do not need to rely on the UDHR (explicitly) in order to do the things I want to do. I think that is the case for most people I know. In that sense, the declaration is taken for granted, probably also because our judiciary system provides us with other handles in order to deal with certain problems. However, in the case that a well-functioning judiciary system is missing, the declaration highlights injustices that are e.g. present in a certain society or inherent in a system of government, and the declaration can then be used to provide active change; either by appealing to inter-governmental bodies or to the humanity of the bodies in power.

  1. Which Article of the UDHR has sparked your interest the most?

Article 27

  1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Sub 1 of this article highlights the benefits of culture, arts, and science. Especially in the uncertain times, we are living in at the moment, it is important to be empathic towards each other, and to believe in a common reality. In the past couple of years, there has been a shift from a discussion about the need to valorise almost all scientific knowledge and research to active (and very vocal) deniers of scientific principles and studies. Furthermore, during any crisis, it is the art community that is the first to lose funding from the government (also here valorisation is a big driver), while it is the art that can help us in understanding our situation, or the situation of others, better. Empathy is an active driver for change.

Sub 2 is interesting because it (tries to) safeguard(s) progress in artistic and scientific fields, similar to how the patent system (tries to) safeguard(s) progress in the industrial world.

  1. Has thinking about the UDHR changed your perception and/or behaviour – if yes, in what way?

I think indirectly, yes. As mentioned before, I am fortunate to not have to rely on the UDHR directly when leading my daily life. However, the principles that the UDHR protects have also made their way into local and national laws, social norms, and discussions for change. I think the main point that I always take away from these principles is that every person should be free to live the way they want and to let others live their lives just as freely.


About the UDHR

The UDHR consists of a preamble, that sets out the historical and social causes that led to the necessity of the Declaration as well as the overall aim of the UDHR. The Declaration contains 30 articles. These were designed to cover the entire spectrum of human rights: civil and political, but also economic, social, and cultural.

  • In Articles 1 and 2 the basic concepts of dignity, liberty, and equality are defined.
    Article 1 reads:
    “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
  • Articles 3 to 5 establish the basic individual rights, such as the right to life and the freedom from slavery and torture.
  • Articles 6 to 11 refer to fundamental legal rights, such as equality before the law, effective remedy as well as a fair and public hearing by an independent tribunal.
  • Articles 12 to 17 set forth the rights of the individual towards the community, i.e. right to privacy, freedom of movement, and residence within a state.
  • Articles 18-21 establish spiritual, public, and political freedoms, which include freedom of opinion and expression, religion, and conscience as well as peaceful assembly.
  • Articles 22-27 define the individual´s economic, social, and cultural rights. This also contains a right to work – but also a right to leisure – and a right to an adequate standard of living.
  • Articles 28-30 lay out the general means of exercising these rights and formulate duties of the individual towards the community.


Fancy discovering more about the other articles?

Article 25 : I have the right to have what I need so that my family and I do not go hungry, homeless or fall ill.

Article 12 : I have the right to protection.

Article 19: I have the right to think and say what I like and no one should forbid it.

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