A permanent reminder of our fundamental human rights

A permanent reminder of our fundamental human rights

Tattooing all the 6.773 letters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the skin of the same amount of people, serves as the main objective of the Human Rights Foundation. Through these tattoos, the aim is to spark and encourage conversations about human rights in an inclusive, universal and accessible way. As a proud member, I share my personal journey on becoming part of this community resulting in getting my own tattooed letter.

A couple of years ago a study friend asked me if I’d ever wanted to get a tattoo. I replied that I had always adored tattoos on other people. However, I could not quite find the right thing that I found meaningful enough to permanently carry on my body. She then happily told me about her Human Rights Tattoo: she’d gotten the letter S tattooed. Hearing about this extraordinary project immediately left me with an instant spark. Ever since that moment, the Human Rights Tattoo project has been tattooed on my mind.

Largest living artwork
Founder and artist Sander van Bussel established the Human Rights Tattoo foundation with the purpose of developing visual work of art, a living community, viral campaign and digital platform. “The artwork comes together by the community itself: by the tattoo artists who ink the letters, the organizations who set up events and of course the community members who carry a letter. This transcends my role as an artist: it’s basically a work of art that is unsigned”, Sander explains.

Being the largest, most profound living work of art to date, Human Rights Tattoo aims to give the Declaration a universal voice on a daily basis by tattooing all 6.773 individual letters on the same amount of people. From CEOs to residents of slums and from human rights lawyers to LGBT-activists: ‘if you’re a human being you have what it takes to become part of the Human Rights Tattoo movement’, as their statement reads. Because the project aims to spread over as many countries as possible and diversify, a donation model has been set up enabling people with less means to also join the community.

Most translated document
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) forms the base for the protection and compliance of human rights globally. It was proclaimed by the United Nations in Paris on 10 December 1948 right after World War II. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated document: it has been translated into 370 languages and dialects.

The document consists of 30 articles which record all the economic, social, political, cultural and civic rights for all human beings regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The articles include the right to life, liberty and security, the right to freedom of movement, the right to a nationality, the right to marry and start a family, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to work, the right to rest and leisure, and the right to education.

Corona-proof event
Fast forward to autumn 2020, when the world is fully under the influence of the corona crisis and drastically impacted our daily lives. During an everyday stroll through my Instagram feed, I came across an announcement for a Human Rights Tattoo event in the Netherlands that would be organized in a corona-proof setting. I truly believe that things meant for you, come around when you are ready. I felt absolutely delighted reading this, because it meant that I could finally become part of the project I had carried in my mind for years.

Now I felt more than ready to carry a part of it on my body too.

A passage from my personal motive:

“My name means inspiration in Arabic. To me, inspiration in life means everything. I always aim to capture unheard perspectives and show humanity in my work as a journalist. I deeply believe in the importance of human rights and its representation. As a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim woman of colour, I see and feel the importance of equality. Human rights are essential in order to create an equal world for each and every one of us. I strive to contribute to his using my own capacity. My Human Rights Tattoo serves as a permanent reminder for this goal.”

Constant reminder
My heart glowed from excitement when I was chosen as a participant. On December 12, the time had finally come as I travelled by myself to the beautiful location of the event, museum Mauritshuis in The Hague. Even though my pain threshold is high, I was very nervous about the unknown feeling of getting tattooed and also not knowing which exact letter I would receive. Because the letters are derived from the Declaration in logical order, participants are assigned a letter which they can only reject if they have a negative association with it. However, they can choose from a number of fonts and the bodily placement.

As I was assigned the letter K, I felt that this letter was not meant for me – I simply didn’t resonate with it. Luckily there was another participant willing to swap letters with me. This granted me such contentment, as the letter H immediately felt right. With a content heart and a dose of healthy tension, I took place on the tattoo bed while tattoo artist Clíona Reck worked her magic. My nerves completely disappeared as I entered a state of mindful calmness. After seeing my freshly inked letter, number #4357, my heart was overflowing with happiness.

I have deliberately chosen a visible place on my right wrist, as a constant reminder for myself and others of the immense importance of human rights. As a journalist, I want to keep writing about things that matter. This placement also holds a symbolic meaning to me as I am right-handed, and therefore write and create with this hand.

Additionally, the graceful lines of the letter remind me of my own handwriting and how letters are – and always will be – of profound importance within my life and work. Overall, my Human Rights Tattoo represents how I am connected to a greater picture. By continuously using our own capacity, I hope and aspire we can carry out the meaning and share the message of human rights everywhere we go. Every time I look at my tattoo, I am reminded of what connects us as human beings. As Beyoncé sums it up perfectly:you’re part of something way bigger.



Ilham is a freelance journalist and podcaster based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. With her limitless curiosity and passion for human interest, she enjoys writing about identity, gender, politics, culture and lifestyle. She is an intersectional feminist and loves reading books in her free time.