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A universal undertaking: reflections and activities

Michele Frankeni  |  18 July 2018

hands with a red heart painted on themOn 10 December 1948, the United National General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Read A universal undertaking, which looks at five Catholic thinkers who have helped shape our understanding of what it means to respect the rights and dignity of each person. Take part in the following reflections and activities and share your answers in pairs, groups or with the class


Consider the arguments of Francisco de Vitoria that native peoples had a right to their land and property. Why do you think he was unsuccessful in promoting his philosophy?

Can you think of other examples where native peoples have been denied their rights to land, property and laws?

Why did Jacque Maritain have to argue for a ‘practical agreement’ on a universal set of rights?

What was the world event that occurred earlier that decade that pushed the UN to want to make a declaration on human rights?

What was the Amnesty International decision that led some Catholics to decide to leave and set up the Benenson Society?

What were Pope John Paul II’s concerns about the UN Declaration of Human Rights?

What do you think about the argument that too much focus on individual rights hurts communities?

Do you think Australia needs its own Human Rights Act?


Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Choose any one of the 30 Articles of the Declaration and develop a presentation on what it means to you. Why do you think it was included? Is it still necessary? How does it apply today? How do governments today implement (or not) the Declaration? Is there anything missing from the Declaration?

Who were the drafters of the Declaration? Pick one and research why they were nominated by their countries to help develop this important document.

Does your school have a Benenson Society? Are there a group of students who would like to start one?

The ideas of St Thomas Aquinas had a great influence on our five thinkers. Who was he and what were his philosophies?

For younger students

Article 20 talks about the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Talk with your students about people who have led peaceful protest movements. What were their aims and why were their movements successful? Nearly 29 years ago, about two million people joined their hands to form a 600km long human chain through three countries in northern Europe – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Called the Baltic Way, the three countries were striving for their independence. Ask your students to stand and join hands. Talk with them about how strong and united that simple act makes them feel.

Ask the students to think of ways that Jesus thought and talked about other people’s rights. 

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash



Topic tags: socialjustice-global, refugees, buildingpeace, valuesandmoraldecision-making

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