FOUNDATION: Unit II. What Are Human Rights and Where Do They Come From? 11 of 15

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Flags promoting United Nations
flying at Rockefeller Plaza, 1943

The international human rights movement essentially began with the creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. Both the human rights movement and the creation of the United Nations were responses to the barbarous acts and feelings of insecurity that characterized World War II.

The Charter of the United Nations — the international treaty that established the UN — uses the language of human rights. It establishes the promotion of human rights as one of the fundamental purposes of the UN.

But even though the Charter uses the language of human rights, it does not define the term. Different countries interpreted it differently and set different standards. To establish a definition of human rights, the UN created a Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council) charged with drafting a universal declaration.

By Octavio Roth
Article 1 of the Thirty Articles
of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) encompasses thirty articles that contain a diverse array of rights, including:

  • rights to life, liberty, and security of the person (Article 3),
  • rights to freely enter into marriage (Article 16),
  • rights to work (Article 23), and
  • rights to adequate food, housing, and medical care (Article 25).

The declaration was eventually submitted to the UN General Assembly and passed as a General Assembly Resolution on December 10, 1948.

The UDHR is not a legally binding treaty — it’s a statement of future goals. Nevertheless, the UDHR is the source of most of international human rights law. The UDHR:

  • provides a universally acceptable foundation for the supreme principle of human dignity,
  • sets a standard of conduct for all states to abide by in their conduct toward their own citizens, and
  • encourages states to adopt these protections in the laws of their own national legal systems.

What are the similarities and differences between the UDHR and the US Bill of Rights?

Documents such as these didn’t arise on the African continent until much later. Why do you think that’s so?

United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
     Web Resource #1
     Web Resource #2
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (pdf file)