The Scando Review
The Scando Review
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Humanity's Magna Carta

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Humanity's Magna Carta

The Second World War, which raged from 1939 to 1945, was the darkest chapter in the history of mankind. It was also a period of unparalleled brutality and merciless killings. Following the war, the United Nations was founded on 24 October 1945, with the aim of avoiding similar global conflicts in the future and maintaining world peace. On 16 February 1946, an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, the Human Rights Commission, was established to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide, as well as to address and make recommendations on cases of human rights violations. The commission later drafted a milestone document which was referred to as humanity's Magna Carta; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights began in 1946, with a drafting committee comprised of delegates from countries including the United States, Lebanon, and China. Later, the drafting committee was expanded to include representatives from Australia, Chile, France, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. Eighteen delegates were selected from these eight countries, allowing the document to benefit from the contributions of nations from all areas and their different religious, political, and cultural settings.

The committee met for the first time in 1947, and through a series of debates on various issues, the declaration's first draft was proposed in September 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, chaired the UDHR drafting committee. René Cassin, a French jurist, was initially recognised as the principal author of the UDHR and was an active participant in the commission's three sessions, and those of the commission's drafting subsidiary. The first draft of UDHR was written by John Humphrey, a Canadian professor of law and the UN Secretariat's Human Rights Director. Humphrey's key contribution was the creation of the declaration's fairly inclusive initial draft.

Chang Peng-Chun, a Chinese playwright, philosopher, diplomat, and the vice-chairman of the drafting committee, excelled at creating compromises when the committee appeared inept and on the verge of a deadlock. Lebanese philosopher, diplomat and the Committee Rapporteur, Charles Habib Malik played a crucial role in the debates surrounding important sections, explaining and refining essential conceptual concerns. Mrs Roosevelt, who was appointed the US Delegate to the UN after President Franklin D Roosevelt’s death, acted as a bridge between the East and the West and was the key driving force behind the drafting and adoption of the declaration.

The committee met for the first time in 1947, and through a series of debates on various issues, the declaration's first draft was proposed in September 1948. The final draft prepared by Cassin was handed to the Commission on Human Rights, held in Geneva. It came to be known as the Geneva draft and was sent out to all UN member States for further comments and suggestions. Over 50 member states participated in the final drafting of the UDHR.

The UN General Assembly, by its resolution 217 A (III), unanimously adopted the UDHR as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" on 10 December 1948, now celebrated annually as Human Rights Day. The UDHR came into practice with abstentions from the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), Czechoslovakia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian SSR, and Yugoslavia. It went down in history as the first document to precisely outline individual rights and how they must be preserved. The declaration considers everyone to be part of one big human family. As the preamble of the UDHR goes, "... recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..."

The whole text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in less than two years. It comprises thirty articles that comprehensively cover every aspect of an individual's civil, social, political, cultural, and economic rights. Regardless of a person's nation, gender, colour, race, class, creed, age, disabilities, or sexual orientation, the UDHR addresses the rights of every individual. As Eleanor Roosevelt described, it remains humanity's Magna Carta.

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