Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Eleanor Roosevelt with the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Eleanor Roosevelt with the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Created 1948
Ratified December 10, 1948
Location Palais de Chaillot, Paris
Authors John Peters Humphrey (Canada), Rene Cassin (France), P. C. Chang (China), Charles Malik (Lebanon), Eleanor Roosevelt (United States), among others
Purpose Human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (10 December 1948 at Palais de Chaillot, Paris). The Guinness Book of Records describes the UDHR as the "Most Translated Document"[1] 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.[2]



The Cyrus Cylinder is considered the first recorded declaration of human rights in history.


The ideas and values of human rights can be traced through history to ancient times and in religious beliefs and cultures around the world. 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".[3]

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.[4][5] A universal declaration that specified the rights of individuals was necessary to give effect to the Charter's provisions on human rights.[6]


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.[7] 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.[8] 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,[9] among others. Humphrey provided the initial draft which became the working text of the Commission.

According to Globalizing Family Values, the Declaration's pro-family phrases were the result of the Christian Democratic movement's influence on Cassin and Malik.[10]


The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 by a vote of 48 in favour, 0 against, with 8 abstentions (all Soviet Bloc states, South Africa and Saudi Arabia).[11]

The following countries voted in favour of the Declaration: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.[12]

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 favour of the final draft in the General Assembly.[13]


The underlying structure of the Universal Declaration was introduced in its second draft which was prepared by Rene Cassin. Cassin worked from a first draft prepared by John Peters Humphrey. The structure was influenced by the Code Napoleon, including a preamble and introductory general principles.[14] 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, are represented by 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. 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 religion and 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.[15]


The Universal Declaration begins with a preamble consisting of seven paragraphs followed by a statement "proclaiming" the Declaration.

Each paragraph of the preamble sets out a reason for the adoption of the Declaration. The first paragraph asserts that the recognition of human dignity of all people is the foundation of justice and peace in the world. The second paragraph observes that disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind and that the four freedoms: freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want have been "proclaimed as the highest aspiration" of the people. The third paragraph states that so that people are not compelled to rebellion against tyranny, human rights should be protected by rule of law. The fourth paragraph relates human rights to the development of friendly relations between nations. The fifth paragraph links the Declaration back to the United Nations Charter which reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights and dignity and worth of the human person. The sixth paragraph notes that all members of the United Nations have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The seventh paragraph observes that "a common understanding" of rights and freedoms is of "the greatest importance" for the full realization of that pledge.[16]

These paragraphs are followed by the "proclamation" of the Declaration as a "common standard of achievement" for "all peoples and all nations", so that "all individuals" and "all organs of society" should by teaching and education, promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.[17]

Human Rights Set out in the Declaration

The following reproduces the articles of the Declaration which set out the specific human rights that are recognized in the Declaration.

Article 1 
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2 
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Article 3 
Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
Article 4 
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Article 5 
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6 
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
Article 7 
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Article 8 
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
Article 9 
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Article 10 
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
Article 11
  1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
  2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
Article 12 
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Article 13 
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Article 14 
  1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
  2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 15 
  1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
Article 16 
  1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 17 
  1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
Article 18 
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Article 19 
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Article 20 
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
Article 21 
  1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
  3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Article 22 
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
Article 23 
  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Article 24 
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 25 
  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Article 26 
  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Article 27 
  1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
Article 28 
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
Article 29 
  1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
  2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
  3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 30 
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


Main article: 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 marks the 60th anniversary of the Declaration and is being accompanied by year long activities around the theme "Dignity and justice for all of us".[18]

Significance and Legal Effect


In the preamble governments commit themselves and their peoples to progressive measures to secure the universal and effective recognition and observance of the human rights set out in the Declaration. Eleanor Roosevelt supported the adoption 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 not formally legally binding, the Declaration has been adopted in or influenced most national constitutions since 1948. It also serves as the foundation for a growing number of international treaties and national laws and international, regional, national and sub-national institutions protecting and promoting human rights.

Legal Effect

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 it 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.

Praise and Criticism


  • The important thing in all this, is that the Declaration will be the outcome of the combined thought of 58 nations. It will therefore express the fundamental convictions of the present age with respect to what constitutes the dignity of man. It will be an international document of the first order of importance and it will be read and pondered by our children's children. ~Charles Malik, 6 November 1948[19]
  • Taken as a whole, the Delegation of the United States believes that this is a good document – even a great document – and we propose to give it our full support. [...] In giving our approval to the Declaration today it is of primary importance that we keep clearly in mind the basic character of the document. It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a Declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms[....] This Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.

~:Eleanor Roosevelt, first chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that drafted the Declaration, [20] 10 December 1948.

  • For people of good will around the world, that document is more than just words: It's a global testament of humanity, a standard by which any humble person on Earth can stand in judgement of any government on Earth.

~:Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan (March 1989, US Department of State Bulletin)

  • 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".
  • Statement by Marcello Spatafora on behalf of the European Union on 10 December 2003: "Over the past 55 years, humanity has made extraordinary progress in the promotion and protection of human rights thanks to the creative force generated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, undoubtedly one of the most influential documents in history. It is a remarkable document, full of idealism but also of determination to learn lessons from the past and not to repeat the same mistakes. Most importantly, it placed human rights at the centre of the framework of principles and obligations shaping relations within the international community."


Islamic criticism

Predominantly Islamic countries such as Sudan,[citation needed]Pakistan,[citation needed]Iran, and Saudi Arabia[citation needed] have criticized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for its perceived failure to take into the account the cultural and religious context of Islamic countries. In 1981, the Iranian representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, articulated the position of his country regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by saying that the UDHR was "a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition", which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing the Islamic law.[21] On 30 June 2000, Muslim nations that are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference[22] officially resolved to support the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam,[23] an alternative document that says people have "freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah".[24]

Libertarian Criticism

Libertarians and some conservatives believe the so-called economic rights that must be provided by others through forceful extraction (for example taxation) negate other peoples' inalienable rights.[25] In reference to Article 25's declaration of a right to free medical care and Article 26's declaration of a right to free education, Andrew Bissell (a supporter of objectivism)[citation needed] argued, "Health care doesn’t simply grow on trees; if it is to be made a right for some, the means to provide that right must be confiscated from others...no one will want to enter the medical profession when the reward for years of careful schooling and study is not fair remuneration, but rather, patients who feel entitled to one’s efforts, and a government that enslaves the very minds upon which patients’ lives depend."[26]


Many proponents of alternative education, particularly unschooling, take issue with Article 26 where it stipulates that "...education shall be compulsory." In the philosophies of John Holt and others, compulsory education itself violates the right of a person to peacefully follow their own interests:

No human right, except the right to life itself, is more fundamental than this. A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests you and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.

John Holt, Escape from Childhood

This instance of the word "compulsory" is the only one in the entire document. The word "compel" is used twice, however, both times with negative connotations.

The Right to Refuse to Kill

“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".”[27] --Quote from Nobel Peace Laureate Sean MacBride, Nobel Lecture, under the sub-heading, “Peace and Human Rights are Inter-related.” At the time he made this statement (1974) in his Nobel Lecture he was Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.

“The right to conscientious objection to military service is not a marginal concern outside the mainstream of international human rights protection and promotion.”[28] —Quote from Amnesty International, 1997

“If the right to life is the first of all human rights, being the one on which all other rights depend, the right to refuse to kill must be the second.”[29] --Quote from Peace Tax Seven, 2005

“The right to conscientious objection to military service is primarily derived from the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right is found in article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was codified in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966. …Article 18 of the Covenant does put some limits on the right [to freedom of thought, conscience and religion], stating that [its] manifestations must not infringe on public safety, order, health or morals. Some states argue that such limitations [on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion] would [derivatively] permit them to make conscientious objection during time of war a threat to public safety, or mass conscientious objection a disruption to public order … [Some states] even [argue] that it is a 'moral' duty to serve the state in its military.” [30] — Quote from War Resisters International


Notes and references

  1. ^ http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/miscinfo/record.htm
  2. ^ Paul Williams, Ed., "The International Bill of Human Rights", Entwhistle, 1981. This is the first book edition (ISBN 0-034558-07-8) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with a forward by Jimmy Carter.
  3. ^ United Nations Charter, preamble and article 56
  4. ^ Overview
  5. ^ UDHR50: Didn't Nazi tyranny end all hope for protecting human rights in the modern world?
  6. ^ UDHR - History of human rights
  7. ^ Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, p 5
  8. ^ Morsink, p 4
  9. ^ The Declaration was drafted during the Chinese Civil War. P.C. Chang was appointed as a representative by the Republic of China, then recognised government of China, which was driven from mainland China and was later to become the government of Taiwan and nearby islands.
  10. ^ Carlson, Allan (12 January 2004. Globalizing Family Values.
  11. ^ See http://www.unac.org/rights/question.html under "Who are the signatories of the Declaration?"
  12. ^ Yearbook of the United Nations 1948-1949 p 535
  13. ^ Schabas, William (1998). "Canada and the Adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (fee required). McGill Law Journal 43: 403, http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=info:bhD3YIk9aKUJ:scholar.google.com/&output=viewport. 
  14. ^ Glendon, pp 62-64
  15. ^ Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Chapter 10
  16. ^ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, preamble
  17. ^ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, preamble
  18. ^ UDHR 60th Anniversary Activities
  19. ^ Statement by Charles Malik as Representative of Lebanon to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on the Universal Declaration, 6 November 1948
  20. ^ Eleanor Roosevelt: Address to the United Nations General Assembly
  21. ^ Littman, David. "Universal Human Rights and Human Rights in Islam". Midstream, February/March 1999 http://web.archive.org/web/20060501234759/http://mypage.bluewin.ch/ameland/Islam.html
  22. ^ Organisation of The Islamic Conference
  23. ^ http://www.oic-oci.org/english/conf/fm/27/27th-fm-political(3).htm#60
  24. ^ The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam(5 Aug 1990)
  25. ^ See Capitalism Magazine - United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Destroys Individual Rights Retrieved 22 June 2006.
  26. ^ Right To Health Care
  27. ^ Sean MacBride “The Imperatives of Survival” Nobel Lecture, December 12, 1974. [1] retrieved May 9, 2008 from The Nobel Foundation – Official website of the Nobel Foundation. (English index page; hyperlink to Swedish site.) From Nobel Lectures, [2] Peace 1971-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997
  28. ^ Amnesty International “Out of the margins: the right to conscientious objection to military service in Europe: An announcement of Amnesty International's forthcoming campaign and briefing for the UN Commission on Human Rights” 1 April 1997. Amnesty International, Worldwide Sites, Library, Europe and Central Asia. Retrieved May 9, 2008 [3]
  29. ^ Inscription on stone unveiled by George Crabb of Cynefin y Werin, in the National Garden of Peace in Cardiff, Wales, May 15, 2005. retrieved May 9, 2008. [4]
  30. ^ War Resisters International A Conscientious Objector's Guide to the UN Human Rights System, Parts 1,2&3, Background Information on International Law for COs, Standards which recognise the right to conscientious objection, In treaties. [5] retrieved May 9, 2008

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