America’s Role in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The US and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

( – Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?” This is an important question — in a world of many nations and governments, who, exactly, has the responsibility of working for the rights and freedoms of all people?

Mrs. Roosevelt believed that it was the duty of all nations to come together globally to guarantee the rights of all people. But, she was far from the only person to believe in this essential tenet of basic existence. In fact, both she and the United States as a whole played an integral role in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.

What Is the UDHR?

The UDHR is an internationally-recognized document drafted and signed by representatives from countries all over the world — including the United States. It contains a total of 30 individual articles that outline the rights and freedoms of all people to be “born free and equal in dignity and rights.” These are collectively intended to serve as a common standard for all nations and the people that live within them.

At its heart, the UDHR’s main goal is to encourage respect for the human condition, compassion, and dignity for all people. It acknowledges that everyone, regardless of nationality, religion, or race, deserves the right to freedom, justice, and peace. It also directly condemns human rights violations and indicates that all people should be treated the same, both in the eyes of countries ratifying the UDHR and in the eyes of the law.

The UDHR was also intended as a response to severe human rights violations witnessed during World War II. From concentration camps to mass killings of civilians, inhumanity became virtually accepted as a daily fact of existence in many locations. Hundreds of thousands of citizens suffered at the hands of Hitler’s tyrannical army. Experts estimate that, by the time the war ended in 1945, nearly 8 million people had lost their lives.

Leaders knew that they had to come together to ensure this would never happen again. Many were even willing to set aside their own differences to make it happen. With the help of the United Nations Assembly, the United States, China, and Lebanon were the first to begin the collaboration.

How America Facilitated the UDHR

The United States played a pivotal role in bringing the UDHR into existence. For years, our own government leaders and officials had pushed for a universal system of human rights. Our own Constitution and the Bill of Rights served as a foundation for these efforts, enshrining many of the same rights that would later be included in the UDHR itself.

The American government’s first, and perhaps most important contribution was acting as a leader to aid the creation of the United Nations in 1945. It promoted and encouraged “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all” while also facilitating cooperation and diplomatic relations between nations. It’s fair to say that, had the US not aided in this process, the UN may not exist as we know it today — much less the UDHR.

The US government also later led the charge in drafting both the American Declaration of the Rights of Man and the UDHR. Not only did our leaders aid in the creation of them, but we also championed their importance on the world stage.

Eleanor Roosevelt, whom we mentioned at the start of this article, played an especially important role in this process. The former first lady, delegate to the UN, and head of the Human Rights Commission was instrumental in creating what would later be labeled the “international Magna Carta for all mankind.”

Of course, she didn’t work entirely alone. Two other leaders, including Chinese activist Peng Chun Chang and Lebanese philosopher Charles Malik, initially helped her in her quest. Later, Canadian human rights activists John P. Humphrey and René Cassin stepped in to help. Together, each contributed to the creation of the first full draft in 1947.

By 1948, representatives from other countries had stepped in to help, turning over nearly 150 different drafts. Finally, they managed to strike the right balance; Roosevelt presented the final document to the Assembly on their behalf in September of the same year. Just 3 months later, on December 10th, the declaration was officially adopted.

America’s existence was, to some degree, a contributor to the creation of the UDHR. As a country whose very Constitution and “rule of law” already respected a Bill of Rights, we were in a position to not only understand the issue but also enlighten other leaders to its importance. In effect, the United States has championed human rights since the very moment of its creation — participating in the UDHR process was simply a continuation of these efforts.

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