An attentive review of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights suggests that 70 years on we have not fully averted the kinds of mistakes that the drafters of the UDHR sought to prevent from ever being repeated.
December 31, 2018 Produced by Lynn Fries
…Article 21 outlines some of the fundamental principles of democracy. This Article in making core elements of democracy a fundamental human right reflects the resounding statement in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it is essential that human rights must be protected by rule of law if man is not to be compelled to have recourse as the last resort to rebellion against tyranny and oppression. Fresh in the mind of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the election of Adolf Hitler through democratic processes and his subsequent rejection of the very same processes as a foundation for the democratic state. Instead he advanced the Fuhrer principle based on the philosophy that the best, strongest and brightest should rule the weaker and less pure. Such a leader would command total obedience from those under him and he was above and therefore could totally disregard the rule of law in this respect like so many others. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be seen as a key part of the world’s attempt to inoculate itself against any future would-be dictators.
Article 22 the second cornerstone of the Declaration introduces Articles 23 to 27 in which economic, social and cultural rights, the rights to which everyone is entitled as a member of society are set out. These rights include the right to social security the right to work the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to rest and leisure, the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being the right to education and the right to participate in the cultural, artistic and scientific life of the community. Among the concluding Articles Article 28 says that everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be fully realized.
So far the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has concentrated on rights that every person has simply by virtue of being born human. Now Article 29 says the corollary of Rights is duties we all have a duty to other people and we should protect their rights and freedom. At the heart of Article 30 rights are inalienable is the idea that rights are indivisible. All the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are connected to each other and are equally important. Article 30 has been called limits on tyrants. Working in the shadow of the Second World War the drafters wanted to prevent fascists returning to power in Germany by for example taking advantage of freedom of expression and freedom to stand for election at the expense of other rights and freedoms. They were acutely aware that many of the atrocities inflicted by the Nazi regime were based on an efficient legal system but with laws that violated basic human rights. Drafters were looking for an international legal framework to guard against excesses of individual countries and to prevent another war or Holocaust.
The document presented to the United Nations as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was not the detailed binding treaty that some of the delegates expected as a declaration. It was a statement of principles with a notable absence of detailed legal formulas. Two documents representing binding international law flowing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were agreed 18 years later. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights which together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights make up the International bill of Human Rights. Provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were further elaborated by a number of other international instruments including the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the convention against torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. All 193 UN member states subscribe to the declaration yet there’s plenty of evidence that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an attempt to set limits on power has yet to live up to its promise. There is also plenty of evidence that it continues to inspire hope among the powerless.
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