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What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

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

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation for the modern human rights which are part of UK law. Described as the foremost statement of the rights and freedoms of all human beings’, it was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948.

It represents the first international agreement on the basic principles of human rights. The Declaration is based on dignity, equality and fairness. In an introduction and 30 ‘Articles’ that express the obligations of Member States, it sets out a 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

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.

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.

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.

Further information about UN treaties and the work of the Commission.

Last updated: 04 May 2016