On 10 December 2023, Initiatives of Change Netherlands (IofC) celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Declaration) in the Great Church in The Hague with Festival Faith in Human Rights. ‘The Declaration is the single most important and the most translated document of the last century’, said guest Mariëlle Vavier, councilor for the municipality of The Hague. 'I am very pleased that we added another translation to the list.' Vavier referred to a Hague translation that IofC presented to more than 200 visitors during the festival.
In his welcome speech, project coordinator Willem Jansen referred to the preliminary stages of the festival. ‘Three years ago, we began with online conversations with human rights experts. This year, we organized a series of dialogues with various organizations that care about human rights. What should a human rights culture look like? And how do we ensure that the residents of The Hague understand their human rights, as Eleanor Roosevelt envisioned in 1948? By focusing on and writing about local human rights in everyday language with everyday people, we thought.’
'In the following year, we worked with educational institutions such as The Hague University of Applied Sciences, InHolland, the Royal Conservatory, and the art academy. There too, the central question was: what does a human rights culture look like?' Building up to the festival, IofC organized the Human Rights Caravan this year. We visited various social and religious organizations and engaged in dialogues about human rights', said Jansen.
Afterward, three speakers gave a personal introduction to human rights. Vavier passionately called for vigilance. 'In the West, we take human rights for granted the same way we take breathing air for granted. Elsewhere, these rights are under attack: we see examples of that in the media every day. But human rights are also under pressure in The Hague. The right to asylum, for example, is under threat. Also, not all residents of The Hague have equal access to legal assistance. Dignity, peace, the right to be yourself. That's what it's about. That is why we must remain vigilant and stand up for our rights and those of others.'
Paper and practice
Simone Filippini, president of the Dutch United Nations Association, said that signing the Declaration is a condition for admission to the United Nations. ‘Unfortunately, we have to conclude that words and practice are often at odds with each other and that countries don’t always follow up on their promises.’ Filippini explains how she has taken citizens to a refugee camp in Lebanon in the past. 'To show them with their own eyes what it is like to be a refugee. They cried during the entire trip. They didn't realize before what it means when all your rights are taken away.’
A moving personal story
Finally, the floor was given to Mpanzu Bamenga, lawyer, human rights activist, winner of the Pax Peace Prize, and since late 2023, also a member of the House of Representatives for D66. He recalled three special moments from his life that inspired his activism. Encouraged by his older sister who believed that every prisoner, whether rightly or wrongly incarcerated, remains human, he began to write letters to prisoners. ‘She said, “We need to let them know we care about them.” It was the first time I heard about human rights.' Later, Mpanzu gained national attention when he sued the Royal Military Police for ethnic profiling and won. ‘As a new member of the House of Representatives, I will continue to defend human rights. Article 1 is at the core of human rights: everyone is born free and equal. If we do not respect that, we cannot guarantee other human rights either.'