Brief History of the United Nations Declaration of Human
Declaration of Human Rights was created following
the Holocaust during World War II. The sheer atrocities
committed by the Nazis through the enslavement and annihilation
of Jews in Europe caused the world to cry out for justice.
The Holocaust changed the worldview on human rights. Prior
to the war, human rights were initially considered a "domestic
concern"; they were to be enforced by only the governments
of individual countries. This view shifted during the
war, as human rights were then considered a "universal
concern"; they were to be a concern for every person.
By the end of the war, the world as a whole felt the need
for the security of inalienable human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out a
list of inalienable human rights. It is however, much
more than simply a treaty. The Declaration describes how
the rights in it are not to be enforced, but rather, represent
"a common standard of achievement for all peoples
and all nations". Among these rights include the
right to life, the right to not be tortured or enslaved,
and to not be unfairly persecuted. The Declaration also
grants freedom of thought, expression, and religion. The
cultural rights laid out include the right to marriage,
education, employment, food, and shelter. The Declaration
was only a resolution adopted by the General Assembly,
so in the legal sense, it is a non-binding document. In
spite of this, since its adoption, it has grown to become
a major factor in international law. In fact, many of
the rights in the Declaration formed the groundwork for
many regional human rights documents, such as the "European
Convention of Human Rights," the "European Social
Charter," the "African Charter of Human and
Peoples Rights," and the "Helsinki Accords".
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into existence
on December 10, 1948. Following a gruelling debate, the
President of the General Assembly called for a vote to
decide the fate of the Declaration. Fifty-eight member
states of the United Nations participated in the vote.
Forty-eight voted for the adoption of the Declaration,
eight countries abstained, and two were not present. The
countries that abstained included Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia,
Poland, Ukraine, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, South Africa
and Saudi Arabia.
After eighteen years, it was decided that the rights in
the Declaration were to be separated into two separate
covenants: the International Covenant on Civil, and Political
Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights. The two covenants were adopted in
1966, and have since been ratified by over 130 countries.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two
covenants form the "International Bill of Rights".