On this day December 10, 1948
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at Palais de Chaillot, Paris.
The Guinness Book of Records describes the UDHR as the “Most Translated Document” in the world. 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.
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.
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 Republic, 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 Chairman, Jacques Maritain and René Cassin of France, Charles Malik of Lebanon, and P. C. Chang of China, among others. Humphrey provided the initial draft which became the working text of the Commission.
The ideas and values of human rights can be traced through history to ancient times and in religious beliefs and cultures around the world. The first recorded declaration of human rights in history is the Cyrus cylinder, written by Cyrus the Great, king of Persia (present day Iran) around the year 539 BCE.
European philosophers of the enlightenment period developed theories of natural law that influenced the adoption of documents such as the Bill of Rights of England, the Bill of Rights in the United States, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France.
During the Second World War the allies adopted the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, 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”.