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What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an international document that states the basic rights and freedoms all human beings are entitled to. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation for the modern human rights that are part of UK law.

Described as the foremost statement of the rights and freedoms of all human beings’, it represents the first international agreement on the basic principles of human rights.

The Declaration is based on dignity, equality and fairness. It consists of an introduction and 30 ‘Articles’ that set out the obligations of Member States, and the range of rights and freedoms to which everyone, everywhere in the world, is entitled. Examples of these are the right to life and freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Declaration today

Nearly every state in the world has accepted the Declaration. It provides a universal set of minimum standards for how people should be treated.

The Declaration has been adapted to apply to different parts of the world and has a direct link to our own human rights legislation. In Europe, the Declaration forms the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights. This Convention in turn was incorporated in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Declaration’s influence lives on. It is relevant not just to societies experiencing conflict and repression, but also to peaceful democracies with the ongoing need to address injustice and insults to human dignity.

Worldwide influence

The Declaration has inspired more than 80 international conventions and treaties, as well as numerous regional conventions, and domestic laws.

It has also been the catalyst for an expanding system of human rights protection for groups such as disabled people, indigenous peoples and women.

It has been translated into more than 360 languages.

The Universal Declaration, along with two important covenants (promises by government to citizens), makes up what is known as the International Bill of Human Rights. These covenants are the:

You can find out more about the International Bill of Human Rights in this United Nations factsheet (PDF).

Find out more about UN treaties and the work of the Commission.

Last updated: 05 Mar 2018