Update: 19.08.2011

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) - 1948

On 10 December 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the cornerstone for modern day human rights within the framework of the United Nations. 

History and Importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Response to the Terrors of World War II 

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is probably the most famous human rights document and at the same time is the cornerstone of international human rights protection. Up until World War II human rights and its protection were almost exclusively a matter for national constitutions and only very few questions were ruled on at an international level. The effects of the war and fear of communism however led to a turnaround. During the war the Allies explained that they were willing to create conditions for all humans to live in freedom and free from any fear and shortage. Therefore the UN Charter of 1945 contains the clear order to the community of states to encourage the respect and realisation of human and basic rights.


In December 1948, following two years of talks within the newly founded UN Human Rights Commission, where representatives of 18 states under the chairmanship of American Eleanor Roosevelt were in session, a breakthrough in human rights occurred. The general explanation of the concept of human rights for all was adopted by the UN General Assembly. 48 states voted in favour of the explanation and 8 abstained. In the process of emergence came in one part the western tradition of human rights explanations and in the other part new accentuations particularly in the field of social rights.

Content of the UDHR

The general explanation of human rights states that civil, political and social rights belong to human beings in order to preserve one’s dignity. The thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees protection of the person, of procedural law (claim of effective legal remedy), classical freedom rights such as freedom of expression, as well as economical, social and cultural rights. These rights should apply to all people irrespectively of their race, gender and nationality, as all people are born free and equal. 

The general explanation of human rights is not a legally binding document, however it has a political and moral importance and many of its guarantees have today become standard expectations. The UNDH was significantly important in terms of its content and a benchmark for the establishment of binding UN human rights Conventions since the 1950’s.


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