Human Rights Day

Today, the 10th of December, is UN Human Rights Day. In this blog, our Advocacy Officer, Charlotte Martin, outlines why this is a day that we all should remember.

Why the 10thof December?

Human Rights Day commemorates the day that the United Nations (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1948. This makes 2018 the 70thanniversary of the occasion, although 10thof December wasn’t chosen as the commemoration day until 1950. The document was adopted at UN general assembly meeting in France. You can find out more information here.

What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and why did we need it?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a document that lists the basic rights every individual should expect from other individuals and from society. There is an introduction section, followed by 30 articles which detail those rights. It was not the first time that people set out to protect human rights but was the first time that those rights were properly defined.

The introduction, known as the preamble, sets out why the UN felt the need to implement the document. The UN felt that the world, having just emerged from two world wars, had witnessed some horrific instances of humans abusing other humans; in the preamble, they said “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”. They went on to declare “human rights should be protected by the rule of law…to promote the development of friendly relations between nations”. The document was voted upon by the 58 countries then a part of the UN, 48 voted for, 8 abstained (some on the basis that the rights were not strong enough, rather than disagreeing) and two did not vote.

There has been some argument about whether the document constitutes international law; in a case in 2004, the US supreme court ruled it was not enforceable on its own. However, it is part of the UN constitution so countries who wish to be member states of the UN are bound by it.

What do the articles say?

Articles 1 to 11 set out rights that an individual has. 1 and 2 cover the 4 basic concepts of dignity, liberty, brotherhood and equality. 3 to 11 set out other rights you might recognise, such as the banishment of slavery, the right to life and the right to a trial. More specifically, articles 6 to 11 set out the rights that allow you to deal with breaches of your rights, such as fair trial.

Articles 12 to 17 list rights of an individual within their community, such as freedom of movement. 18 to 21 talk about spiritual, public and political freedoms such as freedom of speech, thought, word and religion. Articles 22 to 27 set out human rights to a particular standard of living, like help when you are ill, disabled or unemployed.

Finally articles 28-30 talk about how to apply the human rights, stating that they cannot be taken away from you and you also have a duty to protect the rights of others.

How do these apply to me as someone affected by blood cancer?

Of course, we should all strive to ensure human rights are respected for everyone all the time, and so human rights are relevant to us all every day. However, blood cancer patients in the UK still face some challenges and a couple of the articles in the Universal Declaration relate to these challenges.

Article 2 states: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.In simple terms, this states that we should not discriminate against others based on any differences; we are all human. In the UK, this article is largely adhered to via discrimination laws, which were combined in 2010 to make the Equality Act (in England, Scotland and Wales only; other laws apply in Northern Ireland). Disability is one of the characteristics that, under this law, cannot be used to discriminate against someone; i.e. you cannot refuse a disabled person a job or dismiss them from one, or refuse to serve them in a shop, just because they are disabled. Cancer is included as a disability and so blood cancer patients (and anyone associated with them) cannot be discriminated against. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Leukaemia Care offers an advocacy casework service, where we can offer guidance and signposting for non-medical issues you may be facing. Potential discrimination in the workplace is a common concern, with patients and even their families struggling with employers who do not understand and implement their employees’ rights at this difficult time. There are certain things you are entitled to, either as a disabled person due to a blood cancer or as a carer of someone with a blood cancer, such as reasonable adjustments to allow you to continue to work should you wish to. For more information on your rights in the workplaceand discrimination law, please see our Know Your Rights toolkits. We also work to remove barriers for blood cancer patients that occur in other places, such as in the travel insurance industry.

The rights to employment and, importantly, security if you are unemployed, are also set out in related articles 23 and 25. In detail, article 25 talks about “the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”. There are welfare benefits to protect people who are disadvantaged by a blood cancer, such as Personal Independence Payment if you become less able to look after yourself and Carer’s Allowance for anyone who gives up some working time to look after you. Leukaemia Care aim to advocate for people who are struggling to access these benefits and for improvements to the system if they are necessary. Our annual patient survey found that most blood cancer patients face reduced income and increased costs thanks to their diagnosis. You can find more information on these in the Know Your Rights toolkits about state benefits; Part 1 is available now and the series is due to completed by the end of December 2018.

Finally, article 25 also states “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including…medical care and necessary social services”. Whilst the UK is fortunate to have the NHS, which is free at the point of use, a system funded by the state often means difficult decisions must be made about funding certain things. New and innovative treatments, especially for rare diseases like blood cancer, can be costly. Leukaemia Care aim to be involved in the NICE approval process for as many blood cancer treatments as possible, ensuring the views of patients and loved ones are always represented in the decision to fund treatment on the NHS. If you would like more information on how we get involved, please see the information on our website here. We are also involved in several campaigning groups that advocate for rare cancers, such as Cancer 52, or for those with advanced or terminal illness, such as the Advanced Cancers Coalition, as these are often forgotten in planning, funding or data collection decisions.

Leukaemia Care are here to support for those affected by a blood cancer diagnosis and advocate for improved rights and protection for cancer patients. For more information or help with any issues arising from a blood cancer diagnosis, please contact 01905 755977.

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