Every December 10th, we mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN in Paris 1948. This defends individuals’ rights such as life, equality, and freedom of expression and includes economic, social and cultural privileges we cherish in western society, but often take for granted.

I live in Geneva, headquarters of the United Nations, World Health Organization,  International Labor Organization, Red Cross and  dozens of world-renowned humanitarian agencies that fight for equality in workplace and promote health and safety, so I never forget the date. The United Nations Human Rights- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights works to protect rights through international laws.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

In her speech addressing the UN General Assembly in Geneva, Hillary Clinton challenged diplomats from around the world by saying “Gay rights are human rights, too” and called on world leaders to stop discrimination against gays. “It should never be a crime to be gay.”

Some of my senior students heard the American Secretary of State’s address at the UN, but not everyone could join in marches, attend celebrations, or hear speeches of global leaders. However, we can each steal a moment from our busy lives to reflect on the millions of people who are not allowed to enjoy their rights and to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives fighting for freedom for others.

The Universal Declarations of Rights, the most translated document in modern history, available in 382 languages, promotes and protects freedoms of individuals or groups across boundaries and civilizations.

Yet we fall short. Actions speak stronger than words. Genocide recurs, oppression continues, violence erupts, women are mistreated, and slavery exists. Human rights are violated. Everyday. Everywhere. We may be powerless as individuals to radically change laws governing countries, but what small step can we take in our own neighborhood to make a difference? Shake hands with someone of another race; stop to chat with an elderly neighbor, slow down to help a handicapped person. Go out of our way to acknowledge human dignity in others, regardless of their religious beliefs, sexual preference, position in society or color of skin.

“By promoting understanding, help us all to celebrate our human rights & in so doing reaffirm your own,” United Nations Human Rights – Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.

This year, people around the world used social media to help, inform, inspire & mobilize, uniting others in celebration of our birthday. Pay it forward, pass it on.