4 Leaders Who Changed Human Rights Forever

In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10), Leadercast is profiling four outstanding leaders whose passion was to champion human rights around the world.

This declaration is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages. According to the United Nations, the declaration was "drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world…[and] sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person.”

Meet four leaders who have made it the mission of their lives to make this promise fully realized.

1) Coretta Scott King
As the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King was at the center of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and around the world. She was an ever-present leader during that time, alongside her husband and other esteemed Freedom Fighters. However, after her husband’s assassination, her leadership was thrust into the spotlight and she did not take that responsibility lightly. She established The King Center to continue to advocate for nonviolent strategies of reconciliation, and she became a trusted voice in the advancement of women and ending apartheid in South Africa. Ms. King knew, at her core, that every human had value and deserved dignity, and she fought for it in tangible ways until her death in 2006.

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” —Coretta Scott King TWEET

2) Abbé Pierre
Abbé Pierre was a Catholic priest who saved countless lives during World War II in France, and went on to champion the plight of homeless and refugees around the world. When the WWII broke out, he helped many Jews and other political prisoners escape to Switzerland and was a crucial figure in the French Resistance.

After the war ended, Pierre took a political position that afforded him the opportunities to advocate for peaceful decolonization and the human rights of refugees in the Eastern world. He went on to found Emmaus, an organization to help the poor and homeless, which became particularly well-known when homeless people were freezing to death in the streets in France. These ‘Emmaus Communities’ took off around the world offering respite and hope to people of all faiths, languages, and need.

Pierre continued to use his political positions to take action in critical situations where human rights were being ignored, denied or violated. He was active in his work until his death at age 94.

“People are needed to take up the challenge, strong people…[who] do what they can to take action.” —Abbé Pierre

3) William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce’s life work was abolishing the slave trade in England. He began a political career in parliament early in life following his schooling, and he made a name for himself by delivering moving and impactful speeches that spurred parliament to action many times. When he became aware of the atrocities of the slave trade, he aligned himself with those who were already fighting for justice on this front and used his earned political position to shine a public light on the issue. He fought, both radically and politically, for this cause until his old age. As his health was failing him, parliament introduced the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery. Three days later, William passed. And one month after his death, the bill was passed and put into action. His life’s work came to fruition with little to no reward for him, but William knew in his soul that his work for the good of others was worth every ounce of his time.

“It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power.” —William Wilberforce TWEET

4) Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a younger sister to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was a champion for the rights of those with intellectual disabilities. Her care and concern for those with intellectual needs began through her relationship with her sister, Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. The lack of programs for Rosemary, and the treatment of her as a human being, prompted Eunice to invest in creating opportunities (particularly through sport) that gave those with disabilities and those without a place to unite and share experiences. After laying the groundwork for several years through relationships and work across the globe, Eunice founded the National Institute of Child and Human Development as well as the Special Olympics in 1968. Her life’s work normalized opportunities for men and women around the world with intellectual disabilities to have healthy competition programs, employment, safety and health at all times.

“If you don’t have an idea that materializes and changes a person’s life, then what have you got? You have talk, research, telephone calls, meetings, but you don’t have a change in the community.” —Eunice Kennedy Shriver

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