UDHR – A Brief History

Establishment and Protection of Human Rights

The United Nations was created with the purpose to search for a safer and more peaceful alternative to solving international issues than violence and warfare. In the Charter that created the United Nations, a number of articles pertaining to the existence of human rights were included. Their purpose was to ensure the protection and practice of those rights. It was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), created in 1948, that expanded upon these articles and set upon the nations of the world a standard for how universal rights can and should be pursued and achieved.

Now, the UDHR was not an end-all be-all solution to the issue of human rights violations. The concept of human “rights” in itself is relatively new, with its roots in the Enlightenment philosophies of Hobbes and Locke. Human rights can also be seen in the “Bill of Rights” of the American Revolution and in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens” of the French Revolution, but even these documents did not extend human rights to certain groups of people, racial minorities and women for example.

However, with the advent of the UDHR, the concept of human rights has come to the forefront of international attention. The UDHR in itself is not a binding document—it is a declaration, and not a legally binding covenant that requires any state that ratifies it to adhere to its provisions. Despite this fact, many of the provisions stated in the UDHR are widely considered in the international community as “international customary law”. This means that all countries of the world are bound to follow the articles set forth by the document. By contrast, even a legally binding covenant like a treaty can only demand adherence to its provisions from the countries that choose to ratify it. Many of these treaties exist, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

So there you are, a brief history of human rights and its place in the United Nations. For more information, please follow the links at the bottom of the post. If you have any suggestions of human rights topics you would like me to cover or discuss, please email me at audrey@unaiowa.org.

For a copy of the UDHR, click here.

For a more extensive history of human rights and information of the movement in general, click here.


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