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Universal Declaration of Human Rights

History

In December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because of the devastation during World War II. The United Nations, as an international community vowed never again to allow atrocities to prevail. World leaders complemented the UN Charter with a road map guaranteeing individual rights. In 1946, the Declaration on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms draft was presented during the first session at the General Assembly. After review, the draft was transmitted to the Economic and Social Council “for reference to the Commission on Human Rights for consideration…in its preparation of an International Bill of Rights.”

The Commission on Human Rights was comprised of 18 members from various political, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the UDHR drafting committee and along with Rene Cassin of France, composed the first draft. In addition, Charles Malik, Peng Chung Change, and John Humphrey prepared the Declaration’s blueprint; but Eleanor Roosevelt was the driving force for the Declaration’s adoption.

The Commission met for the first time in 1947. In her memoirs, Eleanor Roosevelt recalled:

“Dr. Chang was a pluralist and held forth in charming fashion on the proposition that there is more than one kind of ultimate reality. The Declaration, he said, should reflect more than simply Western ideas and Dr. Humphrey would have to be eclectic in his approach. His remark, though addressed to Dr. Humphrey, was really directed at Dr. Malik, from whom it drew a prompt retort as he expounded at some length the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Dr. Humphrey joined enthusiastically in the discussion, and I remember that at one point Dr. Chang suggested that the Secretariat might well spend a few months studying the fundamentals of Confucianism!”

The final draft by Cassin was handed to the Commission on Human Rights, which was being held in Geneva. The draft declaration sent out to all UN member States for comments became known as the Geneva draft.

The first draft of the Declaration was proposed in September 1948 with over 50 Member States participating in the final drafting. By its resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948, the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with eight nations abstaining from the vote but none dissenting. Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile, member of the drafting sub-Committee, wrote:

“I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality. In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”

The entire text of the UDHR was composed in less than two years. At a time when the world was divided into Eastern and Western blocks, finding a common ground on what should make the essence of the document proved to be a colossal task.

Taken from un.org – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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