2.5 UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (1948)
The UN Charter from June 1945 states that the UN shall work for both peace and cooperation between states and promote human rights. However, it does not state which rights it is talking about. The UN therefore established a Commission on Human Rights which was tasked with defining human rights. Many different states participated in the work: Australia, Belgium, Chile, Egypt, the Philippines, France, India, Iran, Yugoslavia, China, Belarus, the Lebanon, Panama, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Ukraine, the USA and Uruguay. Besides this, all UN member states could give their opinions regarding the proposals.
On 10 th December 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted after two long years of negotiations, compromises and fine tuning. No country voted against it. The declaration contains 30 articles that define individual human rights:
Everyone has a right to life, no one shall be subjected to torture or be treated in a degrading manner, everyone shall have the right to think and believe what they want; everyone shall have the right to express themselves and freedom of movement. Everyone shall have the right to vote, the right to work and to receive the support of the authorities when they need it, and many other rights.
For the first time in history there were universal rules concerning how states should act towards individual people. The states had thus given up some of their sovereignty. In other words, each individual state’s treatment of its citizens was no longer just the business of that state alone. If a state breached human rights, the state could be criticised by others.
A Norwegian professor once said that the Universal Declaration was a stroke of good luck in history.
It came about because of a completely unique global situation. The terrible things done during WWII had created an unusual feeling of togetherness between countries. This situation was unique and unfortunately did not last long. After just a few years a new long-lasting period of fear and suspicion arose between states in Eastern and Western Europe called the Cold War. However, by then the Universal Declaration of Human Rights already existed.