Our Voices

Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948 as a result of the experience of the Second World War. With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed to never again allow atrocities like those of that conflict to happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere. That roadmap is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Commission on Human Rights was made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the UDHR drafting committee. With her were René Cassin of France, who composed the first draft of the Declaration, the Committee Rapporteur Charles Malik of Lebanon, Vice-Chairman Peng Chung Chang of China, and John Humphrey of Canada, Director of the UN’s Human Rights Division, who prepared the Declaration’s blueprint. But Mrs. Roosevelt was recognized as the driving force for the Declaration’s adoption.

The UDHR established that every human being is entitled to protection of, and respect for, their fundamental rights and freedoms. Human rights are those activities, conditions, and privileges that all human beings deserve to enjoy, by virtue of their humanity. They include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights are inherent, inalienable, interdependent, and indivisible. This means we have these rights no matter what, the enjoyment of one right affects the enjoyment of others, and every human right must be respected.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes no distinction between rights, however, in recognizing the different political and economic systems emphasized by the East and the West, two separate Covenants were drafted—one on civil and political rights, and another on economic, social and cultural rights—establishing the International Bill of Human Rights.

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 likes of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”

The UDHR is an aspirational document and each of us can play a role in helping realize human rights for all. What role will you play?