The Creation of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Though human rights as a whole (or for most of history, the idea of human rights) have been present since the beginnings of civilization, its prevalence as a “normal” and “obvious” component of international relations did not emerge until much recently, with the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created by the United Nations in order for all people in all nations to recognize each individual’s humanity, and the equal rights that are given to them on the basis of that humanity. As the UDHR’s preamble articulates, the Document aims for the “recognition of inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”, grounded by the “foundation of freedom, justice, and peace”. 1 In other words, no human is excluded from possession of human rights; regardless of age, sex, gender, ethnicity, religion, or class, so long as one is a member of the human race, they are inherently entitled to the rights listed in the UDHR. Today, the UDHR, legitimized by the United Nations in 1948, is widely regarded as one of the most important documents of the twentieth century. The UDHR was drafted following the footsteps of previous international human rights regimes that advocated for various groups and designed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a response to the conditions and consequences surrounding and resulting from World War 2, which included heinous crimes against humanity, such as fascism, imperialism, and intense racism. Arising as a means to better social progress and standards of life and to solve and prevent strong turmoil and aggressions between nations, the UDHR has established its stature as a universal standard and its influence on international law and relations.
Human rights as a whole technically do not have any foundational appeals. The Universal Declaration itself appeals to “inherent dignity” of all humans as its foundation, affirmed in its preamble. 2 To attain a more thorough understanding of the precursors of the UDHR, and the Declaration itself, we must first delve into some of possible sources for human rights. Religion has often been claimed as a foundation for human rights, especially theistic religions; a divine order is the reason for human rights (Donnelly, 19). A common “father” or “deity” created a common humanity, where we are all equal to the eyes of a God. Because of this, human rights are universal and “inalienable by mortal authority”. To theorists, religions have the [idea of] equality and justice that grounds international human rights (Shestack, 204). Natural rights, which developed into the natural rights theory, have long been regarded as one of the grounds for human rights. These rights are characterized by its accordance with the law of nature, as well as its permanence and its immutability, much like how the articles listed in the UDHR have been promoted as. According to this theory, humans are always in a state of nature, where they are free and equal; a feature heavily embodied human rights. It is also natural for humans to desire and pursue a life of peace and harmony; thus, whatever disturbs that peace and harmony is unjust and wrong, directly attacking one’s natural rights. Though natural rights theory states that no human is subject to another, it is essential for a political authority to exist in order to protect the [natural] rights of persons. From this emerges the social contract theory – Higher officials have an obligation to secure the freedom and inequality and the rights of the people (Shestack, 204). The Universal Declaration prioritizes the protection of human rights, giving governments the duty to secure and defend those rights on behalf of their citizens. 3 Positive rights have also been discussed in discourse surrounding human rights. Directly opposing natural rights, positive...
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