Introduction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the first of its kind and it was created right after World War II. Approved by the international community in 1948 it represents the universal recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all humans. The UDHR has evolved since its creation. Over the years the Declaration has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and declarations. Through the ratification of these treaties, the governments are bound to put into place domestic measures and legislation to guarantee the protection and the enjoyment of basic human rights.

  • Are the governments legally obliged to protect and promote the rights in the UDHR?

The UDHR is not legally binding to its member countries. One of the drafters, Eleanor Roosevelt, described the declaration as a “statement of principles setting up a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” and “not a treaty or international agreement.” Even though this declaration in itself doesn’t legally bind countries to follow and respect the rights, this declaration is also one of the three documents in the International Bill of Human Rights. The International Bill of Human Rights consists of three documents. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These together make a binding law that all of the countries in the United Nations have to follow. 

  • What are the core principles of the UDHR?

The UDHR, being a declaration, also has core principles: universality, inalienability, indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness. Without having these principles in mind, it is impossible to fully understand the UDHR and its importance. When we say human rights are universal and inalienable, we mean that everyone everywhere in the world is entitled to them. The universality is also integrated into article 1 “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. All Human Rights are indivisible and inherent, which means that all of them are needed in order to live with dignity. That is the reason why all of the rights have equal status, meaning that no right is more important than another. The rights are also interrelated and interdependent, meaning that all of them are connected to each other. It is not possible to choose between or separate the rights. This equality between the rights protects them from being picked individually by the governments, as well as using some rights at the expense of others. For example, some governments use the right to freedom of expression to validate hate speech and discrimination speech.

Written by Nanna Orloff Mortensen and Natalia Colmenar

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