December 10 is the day for the annual observance of Human Rights Day which the UN General Assembly designated to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR, adopted in 1948, lays out the basic human rights that every person is entitled to receive, regardless of race or gender or any other distinction. It was drafted as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations” and was the first universal statement that all human beings have certain inherent rights that are inalienable. Consisting of a preamble and thirty articles covering such human rights as freedom of expression, assembly, movement, and religion, it sets out the basic principle of equality and non-discrimination in terms of the enjoyment of human rights, and affirms that everyone shall be free from slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest or detention. Article 1 describes the philosophy on which the UDHR is based. It reads:
• All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
In 1950, the UN established Human Rights Day and asked member states to celebrate however they choose. The 2012 theme for Human Rights Day is “on the rights of all people — women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized — to make their voices heard in public life and be included in political decision-making.”
For a history of the UDHR, see the Brooklyn Law Library copy of A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Mary Ann Glendon (Call #K3238.31948 .G58 2001) which tells how in 1947, after a devastating war and mass displacement, the idea of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights seemed impossible yet necessary. With the coming of the Cold War, the American delegation to the UN, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, began writing what would become the world’s first statement of human rights. The book traces the evolution of the document which was ratified on December 10, 1948, after six drafts and much debate by the UN General Assembly. It also presents a portrait of a woman driven to public service while still grieving for her late husband. The book concludes with a legal analysis of the declaration and a lengthy discussion of its applicability today, when many non-Western nations claim that the concept of “universal” human rights precepts precludes an acceptance of cultural differences.