The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), issued by the United Nations General Assembly, is an international declaration that establishes all human beings’ rights and freedoms. It was created by a UN committee headed by Eleanor Roosevelt, and the General Assembly adopted it on December 10, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. The UDHR, which has 30 articles, is a key document in the history of civil and human rights. Although the declaration is not legally enforceable, the rights are inscribed in the constitutions and national legislation of many countries.
The Supreme Court in Keshwananda Bharti V State of Kerala observed that “The universal Declaration may not be legally binding instrument but India being a signatory member has understood the nature and the importance of human rights at the time Constitution was formed”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with its two Optional Protocols, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights along with its Optional Protocol, forms the International Bill of Human Rights.
In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has given rise to several international treaties that are binding on the countries that ratify them. These include:
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Other legally binding agreements that expand on the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include:
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979
- The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
- The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006
World Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10th December, the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Significance of UDHR
1. It was the first occasion on which the organized community of nations had made a Declaration of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
2. In recent years, there has been a growing tendency for United Nations organs, in preparing international instruments in the field of human rights, to refer the Universal Declaration, and also to other parts of the International Bill of Human Rights.
3. Since 1948 it has been and rightly continues to be the most important and far-reaching of all United Nations declarations, and a fundamental source of inspiration for national and international efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
4. It has set the direction for all subsequent work in the field of human rights and has provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments designed to protect the rights and freedoms which it proclaims.
5. In the Proclamation of Teheran, adopted by the International Conference on Human Rights held in Iran in 1968, the Conference agreed that “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states a common understanding of the peoples of the world concerning the inalienable and inviolable rights of all members of the human family and constitutes an obligation for the members of the international community”.
6. The Universal Declaration is truly universal in scope, as it preserves its validity for every member of the human family, everywhere, regardless of whether or not Governments have formally accepted its principles or ratified the Covenants.
7. Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the Council of Europe at Rome in 1950 stated “Being resolved, as the Governments of European countries which are like-minded and have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law, to take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration”.
8. The World Conference on Human Rights, held at Vienna in June 1993, adopted by acclamation the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, in which it welcomed the progress made in the codification of human rights instruments and urged the universal ratification of human rights treaties.
UDHR: Salient Provisions
The Declaration consists of a preamble and 30 articles, setting forth the human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any discrimination.
Article 1, which lays down the philosophy on which the Declaration is based, 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.
Article 2 explains the basic principle of equality and non-discrimination as regards the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It forbids “distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other statuses.
Article 3, the first cornerstone of the Declaration, proclaims the right to life, liberty and security of person a right essential to the enjoyment of all other rights. This article introduces articles 4 to 21, in which other civil and political rights are set out.
Article 4: Freedom from slavery
No one has the right to treat anyone as a slave, and you have no right to enslave anyone.
Article 5: Freedom from torture
No one human being has the right to subject any human being to torture.
Article 6: Right to recognition before the law
Each and every individual should be legally protected by law.
Article 7: Right to equality before the law
The law is the same for everyone and it should be applied in the same way to everyone without any discrimination.
Article 8: Access to justice
When the rights of individuals are violated, they have every right to seek legal aid.
Article 9: Freedom from arbitrary detention
No individual has the authority to arbitrarily arrest or detain any individual, or deport them from their nation.
Article 10: Right to a fair trial
Trials should be open to the public and conducted fairly by an impartial and independent tribunal.
Article 11: Presumption of innocence
Until an individual is to be proven guilty in a court of law, they are presumed innocent, and hence they have the right to a defence.
Article 12: Right to privacy
Each and every human being has the right to be protected if someone attempts to damage their reputation, access their house without permission, or interfere with their correspondence.
Article 13: Freedom of movement
Everyone has the right to leave or relocate inside their own country and to return
Article 14: Right to asylum
Everyone has the right to seek refuge in another country if you are being persecuted in your homeland.
Article 15: Right to nationality
Each and every human being has the right to be a citizen of a country and to have its nationality.
Article 16: Right to marriage and to found a family
Men and women have the right to marry (only when they attain their legal age to marry) without any regard to race, country, or religion. The government and the legal system of that country should safeguard families.
Article 17: Right to own property
All human beings have the legal right to own property. No one has the authority to unlawfully take them from any individual.
Article 18: Freedom of religion or belief
Everyone has the freedom to freely express, change, and practise their religion alone or with others.
Article 19: Freedom of Expression
Everyone has the right to think and freely express ideas or whatever they decide.
Article 20: Freedom of assembly
Every individual has the right to hold peaceful meetings and to participate in them.
Article 21: Right to take part in public affairs
Everyone has the right to participate in the political activities of their country and has equal access to public service.
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: Articles 22 to 27
Article 22: Right to social security
Every individual should be able to develop freely and take advantage of all the benefits that their country has to offer.
Article 23: Right to work
Everyone has the right to work in just and fair conditions, with the freedom to select their work and pay that allows them to sustain themselves and their families. For equal work, everyone should be paid equally.
Article 24: Right to leisure and rest
Workdays should not be excessively long, and everyone has the right to rest and take paid leave regularly.
Article 25: Right to an adequate standard of living
Everyone has the right to have everything you require so that you and your family do not go hungry, are not homeless, and do not fall ill.
Article 26: Right to education
Regardless of race, religion, or place of origin, every human being has the right to attend school, continue their studies as far as they choose, and learn.
Article 27: Right to take part in the cultural, artistic, and scientific life
Each and every individual has the right to share the cultural, artistic, and scientific benefits of your community.
Article 28: Right to a free and fair world
To ensure that our rights are protected, there must be a court that can protect them.
Article 29: Duty to your community
We humans have responsibilities to the community that allows us to completely develop our personality. Human rights should be protected by law. It should enable everyone to appreciate and be respected by others.
Article 30: Rights are inalienable
No one, neither institution nor individual, should act in any way to undermine the rights guaranteed by the UDHR.
In a world where human rights enforcement is still a challenge in both developed and developing countries, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) serves as a lighthouse for the international community on the standards that should be set for the protection and promotion of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights marked the beginning of a new era of hope for respect for all people’s inherent equality and dignity. It paved the way for the drafting of international human rights treaties and the formation of several human rights organisations. It gave greater legitimacy to the subject of human rights around the world, putting it firmly on the agendas of both national governments and the international community.
UDHR also had to face its own share of criticism. As UDHR has no legal recognition, enforcement of these rights became questionable. Country like Saudi Arabia abstained from the vote on the declaration, arguing that Articles 16 and 18 (the rights for men and women to marry who they choose, and the right to freedom of religion) were in opposition to Islamic faith and teachings which emphasis patriarchal authority. UDHR does try to maintain peace and equality in the society but we can’t deny that the society consists of different individual with different mind-sets, so sometimes it becomes difficult to be on the same page.