International Day for Human Rights: persisting and persevering


An op-ed by Giorgio Malinverni

We celebrate the International Day for Human Rights at the close of a rough year for international justice. In spite of these setbacks, we should keep believing that human rights – and the right to justice in particular – are within reach.

For over half a century, the 10th December is an important day of the calendar for all human rights defenders. Throughout the world, countless activists, legal specialists, politicians and members of civil society reaffirm their commitment to guaranteeing fundamental liberties to all.

Access to justice is among the rights listed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the adoption of which we celebrate today. And indeed, how can we uphold all our other rights without justice? How can we listen to and acknowledge victims? And how to punish the perpetrators to avoid further violations?

We are currently witnessing a weakening of the fight against impunity: some States are leaving the ICC or publicly disavowing it; the ECtHR is facing similar resistance. Other countries have taken refuge in political programs preaching autarky and the return of an almighty State.

Temporary backlashes do not jeopardize a stronger undercurrent

In this morose climate, it is tempting to see the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights like a bygone state of grace. But we should remember that this period of unprecedented progress came in the aftermath of World War Two. Other historical steps forward in human rights protection succeeded episodes of unspeakable cruelty.

This shows two things: firstly, that the past is not as rosy as we sometimes think it was; and second, that spectacular progress may arise after the most disheartening periods.

In spite of occasional setbacks, the fact remains that fight against impunity has never stopped gaining momentum. NGOs have never been so numerous to denounce abuse; every day, courageous men and women defend their rights and those of others.

As human rights activists, we must not give way to pessimism. Even if the road is winding, let us reaffirm in this day that we are confident in the future of human rights and the fight against impunity.

A former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Giorgio Malinverni is the President of TRIAL International since 2012.


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