WHAT IS THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND WHY WAS IT CREATED?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a document that acts like a global road map for freedom and equality – protecting the rights of every individual, everywhere. It was the first time countries agreed on the freedoms and rights that deserve universal protection in order for every individual to live their lives freely, equ­­ally and in dignity.

The UDHR was adopted by the newly established United Nations on 10 December 1948, in response to the “barbarous acts which […] outraged the conscience of mankind” during the Second World War. Its adoption recognised human rights to be the foundation for freedom, justice and peace.

Work on the UDHR began in 1946, with a drafting committee composed of representatives of a wide variety of countries, including the USA, Lebanon and China. The drafting committee was later enlarged to include representatives of Australia, Chile, France, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, allowing the document to benefit from contributions of states from all regions, and their diverse religious, political and cultural contexts. The UDHR was then discussed by all members of the UN Commission on Human Rights and finally adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.  

The Declaration outlines 30 rights and freedoms that belong to all of us and that nobody can take away from us. The rights that were included continue to form the basis for international human rights law. Today, the Declaration remains a living document. It is the most translated document in the world.

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WHAT IS IT DESIGNED TO DO?

The UDHR is a milestone document. For the first time, the world had a globally agreed document that marked out all humans as being free and equal, regardless of sex, colour, creed, religion or other characteristics.

The 30 rights and freedoms set out in the UDHR include the right to be free from torture, the right to freedom of expression, the right to education and the right to seek asylum. It includes civil and political rights, such as the rights to lifeliberty and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to social securityhealth and adequate housing.


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WHAT IS THE RELEVANCE OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS 70 YEARS AFTER ITS ADOPTION?

The UDHR is, as its title suggests, universal – meaning it applies to all people, in all countries around the world. Although it is not legally binding, the protection of the rights and freedoms set out in the Declaration has been incorporated into many national constitutions and domestic legal frameworks.

The Declaration has also provided the foundation from which a wealth of other legally binding human rights treaties have been developed, and has become a clear benchmark for the universal human rights standards that must be promoted and protected in all countries.

The UDHR continues to serve as a foundation for national and international laws and standards. For organizations like Amnesty who are committed to protecting and fighting for human rights, it acts as a guiding inspiration for our mission and vision.

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HUMAN RIGHTS ARE UNIVERSAL, INDIVISIBLE AND INTERDEPENDENT

All human rights are equally important, and all governments must treat human rights in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis. All states have a duty, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights for everyone without discrimination. 

So no matter what distinctions people have, there is one basic principle that underlies all the rights outlined in the UDHR: that every human being has the same inalienable rights. This means human rights are the same for every man, woman and child across the world, no matter what their circumstances.  

There can be no distinction of any kind: including race, colour, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national or social origin, of fortune, of birth or any other situation. Universal means everyone, everywhere.  

The UDHR also shows us that human rights are interdependent and indivisible. All of the 30 articles in the Declaration are equally important. Nobody can decide that some are more important than others. Taking away one right has a negative impact on all the other rights.

UDHR HISTORICAL PHOTO GALLERY
1946: Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962) American author, lecturer, ambassador, social activist and wife of the 32nd President Franklin D Roosevelt. A representative to the United Nations, she is listening through headphones during a conference at the temporary UN headquarters at Lake Success, New York. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images).
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairman of Human Rights Commission, and Dr. Charles Malik, Chairman of the General Assembly’s Third Committee (second from right), during press conference after the completion of the Declaration of Human Rights. 07 December 1948, Paris, France.
A group of Japanese women looking at Universal Declaration of Human Rights during their visit at U.N. interim headquarters in Lake Success.24 February 1950, United Nations, Lake Success, New York.
Children sign Amnesty International’s UDHR campaign pledge at the Norwegian Parliament 11 December 1997. In 1997 – 1998 Amnesty International undertook a campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
His Holiness the Dalai Lama signing the pledge, with Anita Roddick and Bill Schultz director of AI USA in Atlanta, USA, 11 May 1998. In 1997 – 1998 Amnesty International undertook a campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Muhammad Ali, boxer, signs Amnesty International’s UDHR campaign pledge, NYC, USA, 28 September 1998. In 1997 – 1998 Amnesty International undertook a campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
People write on a wall displaying articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, during a rally organized by Amnesty International, on December 10, 2008, in Paris, to commemorate the 60th Declaration by the United Nations. At right is the French institute. AFP PHOTO BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

HOW DOES AMNESTY FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS IN THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS?

The UDHR is the foundation stone of the rights that Amnesty, and its seven-million strong power base, fight for day in, day out. More than 50 years since we started, we continue to take action and campaign for justice, freedom, truth and dignity wherever it has been denied.

We do this by investigating and exposing human rights abuses wherever they happen. By galvanising our global movement, we shine a light where individuals are at risk and provide information to future generations so that the progressive fulfilment of human rights make it a reality for all. 

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