The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The foremost statement of the rights and freedoms of all human beings

All human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms

On 10 December 1948 in Paris, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration was the first international recognition that all human beings have fundamental rights and freedoms and it continues to be a living and relevant document today.

The UDHR is a living document that matters not only in times of conflict and in societies suffering repression, but also in addressing social injustice and achieving human dignity in times of peace in established democracies. Non-discrimination, equality and fairness - key components of justice - form the basis of the Declaration. It consists of an introduction and 30 articles that set out a range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled.

Find out more in film

'Everybody - we are all born free' is a short video produced by Amnesty, which brings the Declaration to life and celebrates its 60th birthday.

Read the Declaration

History

The ideas and values of human rights can be traced through history to ancient times and in religious beliefs and cultures around the world. In Britain key developments include the Magna Carta of 1215, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 and the Bill of Rights of 1689. See the British Library's star items for more information on these and other key icons of liberty and progress.

After the Second World War, the international community vowed never again to allow such atrocities to take place. The United Nations was created and world leaders drew up a document to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere, always. The first draft of the Declaration was proposed in September 1948 with over 50 Member States participating in the final drafting. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at Palais de Chaillot, Paris.

It was drafted by representatives of all regions and legal traditions. It has over time been accepted as a contract between governments and their peoples. Virtually all states have accepted it. The Declaration has also served as the foundation for an expanding system of human rights protection that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as disabled persons, indigenous peoples and migrant workers. It has been translated into more than 360 languages.

United Nations organisations around the globe have used the 60th anniversary year to focus on helping people everywhere to learn about their human rights. The theme of the UN campaign, 'Dignity and justice for all of us', reinforces the vision of the Declaration as a commitment to universal dignity and justice and not something that should be viewed as a luxury or a wish-list.

Since the Universal Declaration

The Universal Declaration is often considered the foundation stone for modern human rights. Since the Declaration was adopted in 1948 it has inspired over 80 international conventions and treaties, as well as numerous regional and domestic conventions, bills and legislation.

The Universal Declaration along with two very significant covenants makes up what is known as the International Bill of Rights. These are:

Find out more about the International Bill of Rights from the Office of the High Commisioner for Human Rights.

Other international conventions that have been key to the development of human rights and of particular relevance to the work of our Commission are:

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

Each of these conventions have committees that monitor and develop the conventions to make sure they are effective. You can find out more about these conventions and committees from the United Nation's Office of High Commission of Human Rights' website .

Bringing the Universal Declaration home

The Universal Declaration has been adopted into regional versions to make clear how it applies in a specific region. In Europe, we have the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which is monitored by the Council of Europe.

This Convention in turn was interpreted for the UK in the Human Rights Act (1998).

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