On December 10, 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris, the first Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – which consists of thirty articles – was adopted by the United Nations (UN) in response to a global need for the observance and respect of human rights regardless of religion, gender, or race.
“The first Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn’t the first but it’s the greatest and most important. It was drafted in 1948 by the fifty-six member states of the United Nations. Our goal was to draft text that would be universally accepted as rights and freedom that applied to everyone,” Stéphane Hessel, former Ambassador to the UN and a co-drafter of the UDHR in 1948 said.
“However, people continue to contest the first human rights declaration by stating that westerners drafted it. This isn’t true. People from all areas of the world drafted it. People have said that it was drafted by the colonial powers and not by the de-colonialised people of the world. This is also false because we did take into account that some people were already independent and others not yet and that this declaration needed to apply to them also.”
At the time of it’s drafting, a mass exodus was taking place. According to the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, the 1948 Nakba forced an estimated 711,000 – 725,000 from their homelands.
Calling into question the lack of energy put into securing the homeland of Palestinians at the time of the drafting of the UDHR.
“There terrible crisis in the Middle East is still not solved but the declaration on human rights lays out all the things that should be applied by Israel,” adds Hessel.
“Please don’t mix the question of implementation and the question of declaring values. The declaration declares values but it’s the responsibility of the countries, non-governmental organisations and the people to implement those values and that has not happened when it comes to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Forty-six year old Omar, who requested anonymity due to security concerns, was born in Syria. In 1948, his parents fled the city of Haifa, which is the largest city in northern Israel. More than 470,000 Palestinians were residing in Syria’s before the war. Many, like Omar, hail the hospitality offered to their ancestors during their desperate search for safe haven.
“Before the war, life in Syria was good. The Syrian government and the people treated us very well. Our families, who fled in 1948, were accepted without conditions and given full rights in the country,” Omar said.
“I worked for a good company as a civil engineer. Basically, we lived as if we were Syrians. I earned a good salary, we had a home and I was able to provide for my family. Our children were getting a good education.”
Omar’s life changed when fierce clashes between fighters loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the opposition engulfed the Palestinian camps of al-Yarmouk, which is nestled on the southwest outskirts of Damascus.