A review of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights illustrated by Michel Streich

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
By Michel Streich
Allen & Unwin
Oct 2008, RRP: $22.95, ISBN: 9781741755756

Of course you support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You probably know some of them. “All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights”: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person”: “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.” You’ve heard these, haven’t you, in one form or another? But do you know all thirty articles? Are you able to cite them and support them when you see, or hear of them being ignored? To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the declaration, proclaimed in December 1948, Allen & Unwin, in association with Amnesty International, has produced a lovely, hardcover, pocket sized illustrated version, now published in the US by MacAdam/Cage.

After the official preamble, each of the articles are set out on their own page with a facing illustration. Michel Streich’s illustrations are simple, in dark red, back and white, and are abstract enough to convey the full meaning of the words without leading the reader. The paper is thick matt, and it includes a nice grey ribbon bookmark, making this book attractive enough for a gift.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn’t a legally binding document, nor is it a treaty, but it provides the basis for many of the treaties and laws that we follow today, and is certainly a clear basis for a sectarian morality that can be referred to regardless of background or affiliation. That the focus of these rights is the inherent dignity of mankind, rather than an arbitrary dictation by external agency or “book”, makes them particularly valuable. Streich’s imagery will stay with you and provide a good memory jog.

The articles themselves are timeless, and worthy of committing to memory. Most of the principles here have been ignored or flouted by just about every nation at some time, and some nations continue to do so overtly and shamelessly, so the repetition of these succinct and powerful words is important. It’s only by continuing to stress the inherent and “inalienable” rights of the “human family” that we can begin to move towards some semblance of freedom and peace in the world. Pie in the sky maybe. But it certainly can’t hurt to teach these to our children, and individually live by them. This simple, but pretty book will appeal to children and adults alike, and makes it easy to visualize and indeed cite the articles regularly, and certainly when you see them being abused.

Though it’s only small, this book packs a powerful punch in terms of its striking prose which is no less relevant today than it was 60 years ago, its apt illustrations, and its applicability to the way we choose to live our lives.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse and She Wore Emerald Then. She runs a monthly radio program podcast www.blogtalkradio.com/compulsivereader.