It was on 10 December 1948 that the UN General Assembly adopted, after lengthy negotiations, in which the American then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a leading figure, a remarkable document on basic human rights — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The drafting of this document, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, took two years of negotiations.
Many if not most of its tenets are still not implemented today.
But, as the UN’s Human Rights website says, in various places, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was “one of the first major achievements of the United Nations”, and it “inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights” — in addition, the UN Human Rights website asserts, the Universal Declaration has the “general consent” of UN Member States.
The original English-language version of the Universal Declaration is here.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has put a press statement to mark the occasion, from which we will excerpt the following:
“The Universal Declaration and its core values – inherent human dignity, justice, non-discrimination, equality, fairness and universality – apply to everyone, everywhere, always”
In all parts of the world, people and groups and Governments have tried to transform the tenets of this Declaration into reality, Arbour said, and “Many have died in the pursuit of these ideals”.
She added that “Today is also the day to reflect upon our individual and collective failures to stand up against violence, racism, xenophobia, torture, repression of unpopular views and injustices of all sorts”.
Apparently, today’s Human Rights Day will see the launch of what Arbour said would be a “year-long campaign leading to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
And, the High Commissioner said, “In the course of this year, unprecedented efforts must be made to ensure that every person in the world can rely on just laws for his or her protection”.
The preamble of the UN GA resolution adopting the Universal Declaration said, in ringing words, that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people“.
It also states that “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law“, and that “it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations“.
And, it says, “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.
The General Assembly, in its resolution, said that the Universal Declaration is “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction”.
Need we say more?
In the tradition of examining voting records, it is interesting to look at the vote of the then-58-member UN General Assembly which, meeting at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in UNGA Resolution 217 A(III) of 10 December 1948) as follows: 48 states cast a yes vote, eight countries abstained, and two members were reportedly not present for the vote [this is usually done deliberately, to avoid taking a position].
Those UN Member States who voted YES were: 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, Siam (Thailand), Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.
Those Member States who abstained were: Byelorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Ukrainian SSR, Union of South Africa, USSR, Yugoslavia.