Human Rights Research & Resource Center
DIGNITY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL OF US, MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE
Background to the UDHR
The UDHR: The Foundation of International Human Rights Law and for Our Common FutureOver the years, the commitment to human rights has been translated into law, whether in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles, regional agreements and domestic law, through which human rights are expressed and guaranteed. Indeed, the UDHR has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and declarations, a great number of regional human rights conventions, domestic human rights bills, and constitutional provisions, which together constitute a comprehensive legally binding system for the promotion and protection of human rights.
The People behind the vision: UDHR Drafting Committee
The Commission on Human Rights was made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. It met for the first time in 1947 Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the UDHR drafting committee. With her were René Cassin of France, who composed the first draft of the Declaration, the Committee Rapporteur Charles Malik of Lebanon, Vice-Chairman Peng Chung Chang of China, and John Humphrey of Canada, Director of the United Nations Human Rights Division, who prepared the Declaration’s blueprint. The final draft by Cassin was handed to the Commission on Human Rights, which was being held in Geneva. The draft declaration sent out to all UN member States for comments became known as the Geneva draft. The first draft of the Declaration was proposed in September 1948 with over 50 Member States participating in the final drafting. By its resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948, the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with eight nations abstaining from the vote but none dissenting.
The entire text of the UDHR was composed in less than two years. At a time when the world was divided into Eastern and Western blocks, finding a common ground on what should make the essence of the document proved to be a colossal task.
It was the UDHR that first recognized what have become nowadays universal values: human rights are inherent to all and the concern of the whole of the international community. The Declaration and its core values, including non-discrimination, equality, fairness and universality, apply to everyone, everywhere and always. The UDHR belongs to all of us including African women, men, children, youths, elderly; those with living HIV and AIDS and persons with disabilities as well the rural and city-dwellers.
More than ever, in a world threatened by racial, economic and religious divides, we must defend and proclaim the universal principles - first enshrined in the UDHR - of justice, fairness and equality that people across all boundaries hold so deeply.
The core principles of human rights first set out in the UDHR, such as universality, interdependence and indivisibility, equality and non-discrimination are crucial in achieving justice. Non-discrimination, for example, has become one of the cross-cutting principles in human rights law. The principle is present in all the major human rights treaties and provides the central theme of some of them such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Human rights are not only a common inheritance of universal values that transcend cultures and traditions. We should, through practice, laws and costumes make them the local and cultural values of our modern societies, in order for them to become nationally-owned commitments grounded in international treaties and national constitutions and laws.
The UDHR aims to protect all of us, and it also enshrines the gamut of human rights. The drafters of the UDHR saw a future of freedom from fear, but also of freedom from want and ignorance. They put all human rights on an equal footing and confirmed human rights are all essential to a life of dignity.
The UDHR drafters’ vision has inspired many human rights defenders like you and me who have struggled over the last six decades to make that vision a reality. The contemporary international human rights edifice that originates in the UDHR is to be celebrated. But it has yet to benefit all of humanity equally, especially women; and in particular the women of Africa.
The struggle is far from over. As the Declaration’s custodians and beneficiaries, all of us must reclaim the UDHR, make it our own, and it has to do with both our rights and our responsibilities. While we are entitled to our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others and help make universal human rights a reality for all of us. In our efforts lies the power of the UHDR: it is a living document that will continue to inspire generations to come.
The UDHR demands meeting basic human needs and recognizes the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, and freedom of expression; or economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education. The improvement of one right contributes to the advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others. The entitlement to and fulfilment of all human rights are essential to a life of dignity.
The Declaration’s enduring relevance is more compelling still when we listen to the voices of people at the grassroots level. When the World Bank conducted its “Voices of the Poor” surveys in the late 1990s, interviewing over 80,000 people in villages and local communities on their values, needs and strongest aspirations, the results read like the list of everyday rights in the UDHR.
The UDHR declares in its preamble that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” It was the first, and remains the foremost, statement of the rights and freedoms of all of us as human beings, without distinction of any kind.
All of Us
The UDHR belongs to all of us. No matter where you live, how much money you have, what faith you practice or political views you hold, all the human rights in the UDHR apply to you and have everything to do with you.
Dignity and Justice for All of Us
Ex-Commissioners of Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.