By webmink on Dec 10, 2008
This has been a time for anniversaries. It's been 25 years since Richard Stallman started the GNU Project, 40 years since Doug Engelbart demonstrated the future of computing at "the Mother of All Demos." Both of these are profoundly important moments in the future of technology, but the anniversary I think is most important to celebrate - and which has appeared least in my news feeds this week - is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948.
This document is one of the most important documents created in the 20th century, delimiting the unarguable rights of every person, and doing it in cool, clear prose. Flowing out of revulsion at the excesses of the Second World War, it sets a benchmark that is still vibrantly relevant to world society. For example, it makes clear that the Guantanamo concentration camp that the US is still running is abhorrent (see articles 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 - even arguing articles 3 and 28 implicitly allow it is dealt with in article 30). It casts light on the US wiretaps and the UK's surveillance society (article 12 supported by articles 7 and 11), on the TSA (article 13), on internet filtering (articles 18 & 19) and on so many more issues.
The more I look at it, the more convinced I am that this visionary document, born from the lessons humanity wanted to learn after the horrors of 1939-45, is a source text that can guide so much we're all trying to achieve. As we're working on the future, be it Web 2.0, rebuilding our political life in the west or freedom for Tibet, I'm struck that the Declaration is a primary source document against which to measure our intent and action.