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ESCWA marks Human Rights Day in Beirut with women and children from local NGOs

Beirut , Lebanon

Youth from CYC enjoying finger painting. Photo: ESCWA: Haydar Fahs

Human Rights Day at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) was bright and colourful this year with over fifty guests from the local community joining the commemoration with dancing and painting activities.
“It is an honour to welcome you to the UN House and mark the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
 in your presence,” ESCWA Deputy Executive Secretary Khawla Mattar told women and children from Dar Al Amal and the Children and Youth Center (CYC) of the Shatila Camp, two non-governmental organizations that are active in safeguarding rights.

"Today we bring our voices together to remind everyone, everywhere that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right,” she added. “All of us can uphold that fundamental truth and build a better global community.”

Kicking off the celebration, Palestinian youth between the ages of 8 and 17 skipped onto the stage. In small and larger groups, they performed several Dabke dances with traditional garments, igniting applause to the beat of their hand-drum. Staff members familiar—and less familiar—with the steps of Dabke eventually joined the stage too, locking hands for more rounds of dancing.

“It is wonderful to share this moment with the people we hope our work can support, and to mark the centrality of human rights for youth, for women, men and children in our region,” said Maisaa Youssef, a Sustainable Development Officer at ESCWA, who was quick to join the dancefloor action.

Seventy years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed on 10 December, setting out fundamental human rights to be universally protected. The document has been translated into over 500 languages.

Progress has been achieved since its adoption, including advancing and protecting the rights of women, children and victims of discrimination as well as in holding accountable perpetrators of gross human rights violations and abuses. However, in practice, recognition of the inherent dignity and equal rights of human beings is still far from universal with millions around the world continuing to suffer, many in the Arab region due to governance and conflict issues.
In recognition of the imbalance that still exists, ESCWA staff and guests engaged in a painting activity to highlight the need for all parts of society to “speak up and take a stand.”

Yellow, orange and shades of blue flew across the canvases while also decorating the protective t-shirts made for the occasion. The final artwork read “#StandUp4humanrights,” one of the official hashtags created by the UN for the Day’s social media campaign.
As every coat of paint was added more shades of vivid colours ensued, but also testimonies about hardship and overcoming tribulations by women who have found refuge at the NGO Dar Al Alam, often with their young children. These personal stories spoke about violence, abuse and marginalization but also about resistance and the recognition that nobody has a license to take anyone’s human rights away, encouraging further reflection on the ways that each of us can stand up for rights, every day.