Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

Human Rights Day: History, Themes, Resources and Activities

As the year 1948 drew to a close, the newly established United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, which represents the strongest affirmation of universal human rights in history, sets the standard for treaties and constitutions around the world. Every year on December 10th, the UN recognizes Human Rights Day. In this article, we’ll discuss the day’s history, its themes, what resources are available and what activities people can do to celebrate and promote human rights.

Human Rights Day is celebrated annually on December 10th in recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s a great day to learn more about human rights, including what they are, why they matter and how everyone can protect them.

What’s the history of Human Rights Day?

The modern concept of universal human rights is fairly new to the world, but cultures around the world have recognized rights in some form for thousands of years. The majority of the time, rights were something only owed to select groups in society, such as men who owned land or citizens of a nation. The Magna Carta and the United States Constitution are just two examples of documents outlining rights like the right to a fair trial and equality before the law. The need for something more international and standardized became clear following the two World Wars. Those wars represented the largest military conflict in history. The true toll will never be known, but estimates for WWII alone put deaths between 35 to 60 million. Six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust.

Want to learn more about what human rights are? Check out this article

Scarred by the violence and death of the past decades, the international community came together to recognize the universality of human rights. This was done through the United Nations, whose goal was to stop future wars. The UN replaced the world’s first intergovernmental organization – the League of Nations – which failed to protect peace. The writing of a human rights document began in 1946 with representatives from the United States, China, Australia, France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and other countries. Once a version was written, it went to all the members of the UN Commission on Human Rights. In 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the General Assembly invited all Member states to celebrate December 10th, the day of the UDHR’s adoption, as Human Rights Day.

What are the themes of Human Rights Day?

When the United Nations first invited Members and all “interested organizations” to celebrate Human Rights Day, its stated goal was to raise awareness of the UDHR. Every Human Rights Day, people are encouraged to reflect on their rights and what they can do to empower themselves and everyone around them. While human rights are important every day of every year, December 10th, 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of the UDHR. In the seven decades since the document’s creation, a lot of progress has been made on human rights, but, as the UN puts it, “the promise of the UDHR, of dignity and equality in rights, has been under a sustained assault in recent years.” The year’s theme was “Freedom, Equality and Justice For All.”

Human Rights Day is just one of the many international holidays observed by the UN. These days, weeks, years and even decades help the organization promote awareness of specific topics like human rights, gender equality, clean energy, languages and much more. The UN and other entities, such as NGOs, set up resources, activities and events that educate people and mobilize action.

What Human Rights Day resources are available?

Human Rights Day is all about raising awareness of the UDHR, human rights and what everyone can do to protect them. There are countless resources available for December 10th and for the rest of the year. Here are seven examples:

The United Nations

The UN has a page dedicated to resources for Human Rights Day. You can find the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as translations, sign language versions, audio recordings in 80+ languages, an illustrated flipbook and much more. There are also links to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, human rights quizzes, various UN campaigns and a list of past Human Rights Day observances.

OHCHR External Resources Collection

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a department of the UN’s Secretariat. Established in 1993, it’s the office responsible for promoting human rights. Its page of external resources features links to Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre, the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library and more. You can also find links to conventions, treaties and other human rights instruments.

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch is a non-governmental advocacy organization. Through its research and human rights advocacy, it serves as an essential resource for governments, policymakers, activists and others. It has a web page for students and teachers interested in learning more about human rights. Explainer videos, a reading list, a film list and accessible reports are available.

Human Rights Education Associates

HREA is a non-governmental, human rights education organization. It focuses on developing educational materials and programming, as well as training for human rights professionals and groups. You can research its resource center by human rights themes, such as peace education, democracy, right to housing, anti-racism and much more. You can also learn more about e-learning opportunities, research and evaluation, policy and advocacy and so on.


Human Rights Educators USA is a network promoting human rights education in the US. It consists of educators, students, higher education faculty, NGO members and others. Its resources page offers HRE’s collections on topics like democracy and racial justice. Within the collections, you can find teaching guides, interactive guides, toolkits, lessons, podcasts, articles and much more. The website also features information on national human rights education organizations and a discussion forum.

Looking for kid-appropriate human rights resources? Here’s our article on 10 of the best.

The Advocates for Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights is a US-based NGO committed to international human rights, civil society and the rule of law. The website offers a selection of free classroom resources like lesson plans for grades K-12 and teaching guides, as well as reports, factsheets, manuals, training, resources for lawyers and a deadlines database for human rights bodies.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International is a global advocacy organization with millions of members. Its work includes producing “how-to” toolkits.” These help individuals and groups take action on important issues such as organizing campaigns, attending protests, letter-writing and more. The Amnesty International site is also home to research reports, training manuals, contacts and ongoing campaigns.

What activities can you do on Human Rights Day?

When the UN announces its Human Rights Day theme for the year, events and campaigns take place during the whole 12 months. You can arrange or participate in activities throughout the year because human rights always matter. Here are five ideas on how to celebrate:

#1. Learn more about human rights issues where you live

In recognition of Human Rights Day, start learning more about the human rights issues affecting you, your loved ones, and the community you live in! You may already be very familiar, in which case you can use Human Rights Day to raise awareness, talk to people about what they can do and build solidarity. While human rights are important to everyone, many people don’t have good information about their rights and why they matter.

#2. Get involved with a human rights organization

Human rights organizations are constantly working to solve issues like poverty, gender inequality, racial injustice and so on. If you aren’t already involved with an organization, do some research on local or international NGOs you can donate to or volunteer with. When everyone works to protect human rights in whatever way they can, the world is a better and safer place.

#3. Read articles and books about human rights

Articles and books are great resources for learning more about human rights. There’s a lot of poorly researched work and misinformation out there, so be sure to rely on reputable NGOs, respected authors and established, fact-checked media outlets. If you’re ever unsure about a piece of information, you can look it up online to see if it’s been debunked or confirmed in other places.

Check out our article on 13 inspiring human rights books.

#4. Attend a community event about human rights

Many organizations, such as libraries, universities and NGOs, regularly hold public events about human rights and social justice issues. You can often find information posted at your local government buildings, libraries and online. Most public events about human rights are free, but in cases where there’s an entrance fee, you may be able to find discounted rates or recordings at a later date.

#5. Create or share art about human rights

Art can be a powerful tool for human rights. In recognition of Human Rights Day, consider creating or sharing a piece of art about a social justice issue, empowerment or equality. It can serve as a tool for private reflection or as something you share with your community. Art can be either personal or public. Art also takes many forms, including music, paintings, photography, poetry, dance, crafts, cooking and much more.

Want more activities for Human Rights Day? Here’s our list of 15 ideas.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.

Join us on Telegram!Sign up here