75 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 10th the world celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

After the end of the Second World War and with the foundation of the United Nations in 1945, states agreed that history must not repeat itself. To foster freedom, peace, and justice, world leaders resolved to develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. The UDHR is a milestone document in the history of human rights, as for the first time fundamental human rights were universally recognized. It guarantees the rights and freedoms of all human beings, recognizing the dignity and worth of the human person, equal rights of men and women, promotes freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want. Thirty articles containing equal, indivisible, inalienable, and fundamental human rights make up the Declaration, which together with the two covenants – the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPP, 1966) and the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966) – is known as the International Bill of Human Rights.

Article 1 – All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Human Rights: Past and Future
Although not legally binding, the Declaration is the basis for international treaties, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and legal codes from which derive legal obligations for states to uphold, protect, and promote human rights. There are 9 legally binding core international human rights treaties, including ICCPP and ICESCR, of which all 193 UN Member States have ratified at least one. However, the fact that the Declaration exists or treaties have been ratified, does not mean that today all human rights are implemented. While all humans are rights-holders, the realization of their rights cannot be taken for granted. Armed conflicts, political violence, gender inequalities, racism, xenophobia, discrimination against minorities, prohibitions to express one’s opinion, and poverty around the globe testify daily to a lack of fulfilment of human rights. Over the past 75 years, humanity has faced new challenges deriving, for example, from new technologies, artificial intelligence, or climate change, which were not included or foreseen when the UDHR was written and which threaten the enjoyment of human rights today and of future generations. The fact that existing problems intensify and new challenges arise, clearly show that the international human rights instruments need to evolve and adapt. The inalienable and universal nature of human rights define a dynamic process to adequately address new and as of yet unforeseen situations, while upholding existing human rights standards.

The office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Geneva together with its partner network is engaging with various stakeholders in this process. Its work, based on social democratic values, human rights and justice, focuses on several key areas, trying to advance human rights in relation to migration, business, and climate change. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, FES Geneva will publish a series of articles based on monthly thematic spotlights.

Article 2 – Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other

The UN celebrating 75 years of the UDHR
10 December is celebrated annually as International Human Rights Day. In 2023, in the lead up to the anniversary, the UN’s Human Rights 75 Initiative focuses on a different topic each month. Those monthly thematic spotlights aim to inform about different issues related to human rights, to enrich discussions, and to discover concrete ways to implement different aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN High Level Event on 11-12 December is expected to lead to change and progress through concrete commitments by states and civil society organizations, and to feed into the 2024 Summit of the Future. The aim is to create a vision of what the development of human rights within the next 25 years should look like. In order to influence this process positively, it is important for civil society and policy makers alike to engage and advocate for the respect and promotion of human rights now and in the future.

Article 3 – Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 states. The Council strengthens the promotion and protection of the full range of human rights around the globe and addresses situations of human rights violations. There are three sessions held per year and the possibility to hold a special session to discuss emergencies.

The Council has several subsidiary bodies: the Special Procedures, the Universal Periodic Review, and the Advisory Committee. The Special Procedures inform the UN either on a specific theme (45 thematic mandates) or on the human rights situation of a country (14 country mandates). There are three different types of Special Procedures: working groups, independent experts, and special rapporteurs. While supported by OHCHR they carry out their work independently. Their main activities consist of country visits, communications to states, contributions to the developing international human rights standards, advocacy, raising public awareness, and providing advice for technical cooperations. New Special Procedures mandates continue to be added to adapt to the changing world. In 2021, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change was appointed and represents the newest thematic mandate. 

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) the human rights situation of all 193 UN Member States is reviewed. States have the possibility to report on challenges they face and can declare their commitment to improve the human rights situation in their countries. The UPR is a State-driven, peer review process that allows all countries to comment on the human rights situation in other UN Member States and to make recommendations on how to improve the situation.

The Advisory Committee serves as a think tank for the Human Rights Council. With its work it provides expertise on topics requested by the Council, and it can conduct further research proposals. The Committee is composed of 18 independent experts with different professional backgrounds, covering various regions of the globe. Currently the Advisory Committee is focusing its work especially on questions related to new technologies.

Additional information on the Human Rights Council:

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

“Human rights are inherent to us all, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status…”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the leading UN unity on human rights. It has an important role in promoting the respect and the protection of all human rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Office and the High Commissioner for Human Rights seek to integrate a human rights perspective into the work of all UN entities, they assist governments, and empower people who stand up for human rights. Currently, Volker Türk holds the position of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is the principal human rights official of the United Nations, accountable to the Secretary-General António Guterres and responsible for all activities and the administration of OHCHR.

Geneva Office

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