Universal Declaration of Human Rights
|The Universal Declaration of Human Rights|
Eleanor Roosevelt with the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
|Ratified||10 December 1948|
|Location||Palais de Chaillot, Paris|
|Author(s)||John Peters Humphrey (Canada), René Cassin (France), P. C. Chang (China), Charles Malik (Lebanon), Eleanor Roosevelt (United States), among others|
|Rights by claimant|
|Other groups of rights|
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at Palais de Chaillot, Paris. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. The full text is published by the United Nations on its website.
It consists of 30 articles which have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions and laws. The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols. In 1966 the General Assembly adopted the two detailed Covenants, which complete the International Bill of Human Rights; and in 1976, after the Covenants had been ratified by a sufficient number of individual nations, the Bill took on the force of international law.
- 1 History
- 2 Structure
- 3 Commemoration: International Human Rights Day
- 4 Significance and legal effect
- 5 Reaction
- 6 Organizations promoting UDHR
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
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During World War II, the allies adopted the Four Freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want—as their basic war aims. The United Nations Charter "reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person" and committed all member states to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion".
When the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany became apparent after the Second World War, the consensus within the world community was that the United Nations Charter did not sufficiently define the rights it referenced. A universal declaration that specified the rights of individuals was necessary to give effect to the Charter's provisions on human rights.
Canadian John Peters Humphrey was called upon by the United Nations Secretary-General to work on the project and became the Declaration's principal drafter. At the time Humphrey was newly appointed as Director of the Division of Human Rights within the United Nations Secretariat. The Commission on Human Rights, a standing body of the United Nations, was constituted to undertake the work of preparing what was initially conceived as an International Bill of Rights. The membership of the Commission was designed to be broadly representative of the global community with representatives of the following countries serving: Australia, Belgium, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, Chile, China, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Lebanon, Panama, Philippines, United Kingdom, United States, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Uruguay and Yugoslavia. Well known members of the Commission included Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States, who was the Chairperson, René Cassin of France, Charles Malik of Lebanon, and P. C. Chang of the Republic of China, among others. Humphrey provided the initial draft which became the working text of the Commission.
The Declaration was commissioned in 1946, and was drafted over two years by the Commission on Human Rights. This commission consisted of 18 members from various nationalities and political backgrounds. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafting committee was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a great spokeswoman in that area.
The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 by a vote of 48 in favor, 0 against, with eight abstentions: the Soviet Union, Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR, People's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, People's Republic of Poland, Union of South Africa, Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Honduras and Yemen, both members of UN at the time, failed to appear for vote. The South African position can be seen as a kind of protection of the system of apartheid in South Africa, which clearly violated any number of articles in the declaration. The Saudi Arabian delegation abstained mostly for two reasons: because of Article 18 which states that everyone has the right "to change his religion or belief" and because of Article 16 on equal marriage rights. Eleanor Roosevelt attributed the abstention of the Soviet bloc nations to Article 13, which provided the right of citizens to leave their countries.
The following countries voted in favor of the Declaration:
- Republic of China
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
Despite the central role played by Canadian John Humphrey, the Canadian Government at first abstained from voting on the Declaration's draft, but later voted in favor of the final draft in the General Assembly.
The underlying structure of the Universal Declaration was introduced in its second draft which was prepared by René Cassin. Cassin worked from a first draft prepared by John Peters Humphrey. The structure was influenced by the Code Napoléon, including a preamble and introductory general principles. Cassin compared the Declaration to the portico of a Greek temple, with a foundation, steps, four columns and a pediment. Articles 1 and 2 are the foundation blocks, with their principles of dignity, liberty, equality and brotherhood. The seven paragraphs of the preamble, setting out the reasons for the Declaration, represent the steps. The main body of the Declaration forms the four columns. The first column (articles 3–11) constitutes rights of the individual, such as the right to life and the prohibition of slavery. Articles 6 through 11 refer to the fundamental legality of human rights with specific remedies cited for their defense when violated. The second column (articles 12–17) constitutes the rights of the individual in civil and political society. The third column (articles 18–21) is concerned with spiritual, public and political freedoms such as freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of association. The fourth column (articles 22–27) sets out social, economic and cultural rights. In Cassin's model, the last three articles of the Declaration provide the pediment which binds the structure together. These articles are concerned with the duty of the individual to society and the prohibition of use of rights in contravention of the purposes of the United Nations Organisation.
Commemoration: International Human Rights Day
The adoption of the Universal Declaration is a significant international commemoration marked each year on 10 December and is known as Human Rights Day or International Human Rights Day. The commemoration is observed by individuals, community and religious groups, human rights organisations, parliaments, governments and the United Nations. Decadal commemorations are often accompanied by campaigns to promote awareness of the Declaration and human rights. 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the Declaration and was accompanied by year-long activities around the theme "Dignity and justice for all of us".
Significance and legal effect
The Guinness Book of Records describes the UDHR as the "Most Translated Document" in the world. In the preamble, governments commit themselves and their people to progressive measures which secure the universal and effective recognition and observance of the human rights set out in the Declaration. Eleanor Roosevelt supported the adoption of the UDHR as a declaration rather than as a treaty, because she believed that it would have the same kind of influence on global society as the United States Declaration of Independence had within the United States. In this, she proved to be correct. Even though it is not legally binding, the Declaration has been adopted in or has influenced most national constitutions since 1948. It has also served as the foundation for a growing number of national laws, international laws, and treaties, as well as regional, national, and sub-national institutions protecting and promoting human rights.
While not a treaty itself, the Declaration was explicitly adopted for the purpose of defining the meaning of the words "fundamental freedoms" and "human rights" appearing in the United Nations Charter, which is binding on all member states. For this reason the Universal Declaration is a fundamental constitutive document of the United Nations. Many international lawyers, in addition, believe that the Declaration forms part of customary international law and is a powerful tool in applying diplomatic and moral pressure to governments that violate any of its articles. The 1968 United Nations International Conference on Human Rights advised that it "constitutes an obligation for the members of the international community" to all persons. The declaration has served as the foundation for two binding UN human rights covenants, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the principles of the Declaration are elaborated in international treaties such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and many more. The Declaration continues to be widely cited by governments, academics, advocates and constitutional courts and individual human beings who appeal to its principles for the protection of their recognised human rights.
The Universal Declaration has received praise from a number of notable people. Charles Malik, Lebanese philosopher and diplomat, called it "an international document of the first order of importance," while Eleanor Roosevelt, first chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that drafted the Declaration, stated that it "may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere." 10 December 1948. In a speech on 5 October 1995, Pope John Paul II called the UDHR "one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time". And in a statement on 10 December 2003 on behalf of the European Union, Marcello Spatafora said that "it placed human rights at the centre of the framework of principles and obligations shaping relations within the international community."
Most Islamic countries have signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights agreements. In 1948, Saudi Arabia abstained from the ratification vote on the declaration, claiming that it violated Islamic Sharia law. However, Pakistan (which had signed the declaration) disagreed with and critiqued the Saudi position. In 1982, the Iranian representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said that the UDHR was "a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition", which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing the Islamic law. On 30 June 2000, Muslim nations that are members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) officially resolved to support the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, an alternative document that says people have "freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah", without any discrimination on grounds of "race, colour, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations". As a secular state, Turkey has signed the declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and other European Human Rights agreements.
A number of scholars in different fields have expressed concerns with the Declaration's alleged western bias. These include Irene Oh (Religion and Ethics), Abdulaziz Sachedina (Religion), Riffat Hassan (Theology) and Faisal Kutty (Law). Riffat Hassan argues as follows:
"What needs to be pointed out to those who uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be the highest, or sole, model, of a charter of equality and liberty for all human beings, is that given the Western origin and orientation of this Declaration, the "universality" of the assumptions on which it is based is - at the very least - problematic and subject to questioning. Furthermore, the alleged incompatibility between the concept of human rights and religion in general, or particular religions such as Islam, needs to be examined in an unbiased way."
Kutty writes: "A strong argument can be made that the current formulation of international human rights constitutes a cultural structure in which western society finds itself easily at home ... It is important to acknowledge and appreciate that other societies may have equally valid alternative conceptions of human rights." On the other hand, others[who?] have written that some of these "cultural arguments" can go so far as to undermine the very nature of human freedom and choice and the purpose of the UN declaration. As examples, typical versions of sharia law forbid muslims from leaving Islam, ultimately with capital punishment. Blasphemy laws, likewise, may be used to stifle criticism of Islam and become a form of coercion against a true freedom of conscience. For more discussion on the serious shortcomings in the Cairo Declaration, see Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.
The Right to Refuse to Kill
Groups such as Amnesty International and War Resisters International have advocated for "The Right to Refuse to Kill" to be added to the UDHR. War Resisters International has stated that the right to conscientious objection to military service is primarily derived from, but not yet explicit in, Article 18 of the UDHR: the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Steps have been taken within the United Nations to make this right more explicit; but those steps have been limited to secondary, more "marginal" United Nations documents. That is why Amnesty International would like to have this right brought "out of the margins" and explicitly into the primary document, namely the UDHR itself.
To the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights one more might, with relevance, be added. It is "The Right to Refuse to Kill."
American feminist Catharine MacKinnon has asked the question "are women considered human?", focusing in part on the use of male-centric terms such as brotherhood in Article 1 and himself and his family in article 23.
In the Bangkok Declaration adopted by Ministers of Asian states meeting in 1993 in the lead up to the World Conference on Human Rights held in the same year, Asian governments reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They stated their view of the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights and stressed the need for universality, objectivity and non-selectivity of human rights. At the same time, however, they emphasized the principles of sovereignty and noninterference, calling for greater emphasis on economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly the right to economic development, over civil and political rights. The Bangkok Declaration is considered to be a landmark expression of the Asian Values perspective, which offers an extended critique of human rights universalism.
Organizations promoting UDHR
International Federation for Human Rights
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is nonpartisan, nonsectarian, and independent of any government. Its core mandate is to promote respect for all the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Director Stephen Johnson and 41 international animators, musicians and producers created a 20-minute video for Amnesty International to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights in 1988, bringing to life the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Amnesty International celebrated Human Rights Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights all over the world by organizing the Fire Up event.
American Library Association
The Council of the American Library Association endorsed Article 19 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1997. Along with Article 19, Article 18 and 20 are also fundamentally tied to the ALA Universal Right to Free Expression and the Library Bill of Rights. Censorship, the invasion of privacy, and interference of opinions are human rights violations according to the American Library Association.
- History of human rights
- Timeline of young people's rights in the United Kingdom
- Timeline of young people's rights in the United States
- Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, 1990
- Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 1993
- United Nations Millennium Declaration, 2000
International human rights law
- Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949
- European Convention on Human Rights, 1952
- Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1954
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1969
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1976
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1981
- Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990
- Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, 2000
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2007
- Slavery in Russia
- Human Rights in Mainland China
- Slavery in the United States
- Command responsibility
- Declaration on Great Apes, an as-yet unsuccessful effort to extend some human rights to great apes
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The Earth Charter
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