UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Policy Type Policy
Policy Jurisdiction International
Status Passed
Tags Democratization, JEDI

Policy Summary

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 recognized human rights to be the foundation for freedom, justice and peace.

Work on the UDHR began in 1946, 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 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 life, liberty and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to social security, health and adequate housing.

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.

UDHR is critiqued for being drafted primary from a Western view of the obligations of states to their people. As such, it does not account for cultural norms or values that exist outside of Western cultures. Another criticism of UDHR is that the Declaration acknowledges the rights of individuals, not collective groups, thus it does not apply to persecution of entire groups (i.e. genocide). Generally viewed as idealistic and lacking enforcement mechanisms, UDHR can provide excellent protections when its values are translated into concrete and enforceable legal instruments at the local, state, and international levels.

Policy summary courtesy of: Amnesty International

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