The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (text) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the first global expression of what many people believe to be the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. The full text is published by the United Nations on its website.
The Declaration consists of thirty articles which, although not legally binding, have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, economic transfers, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and other laws. The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols. In 1966, the General Assembly adopted the two detailed Covenants, which complete the International Bill of Human Rights. In 1976, after the Covenants had been ratified by a sufficient number of individual nations, the Bill has become an international law, to be followed by all.
In June 1946, the UN Economic and Social Council established the Commission on Human Rights, which consisted of 18 members from various nationalities and political backgrounds. The Commission on Human Rights, a standing body of the United Nations, was constituted to undertake the work of preparing what was initially conceived as an International Bill of Rights.
The commission established a special Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafting Committee, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, to write the articles of the Declaration. The committee met in two sessions over the course of two years.
Canadian John Peters Humphrey, Director of the Division of Human Rights within the United Nations Secretariat, was called upon by the United Nations Secretary-General to work on the project and became the Declaration's principal drafter. At the time, Humphrey was newly appointed as Director of the Division of Human Rights within the United Nations Secretariat.
Other well-known members of the drafting committee included René Cassin of France, Charles Malik of Lebanon, P. C. Chang of the Republic of China (Taiwan),. Humphrey provided the initial draft which became the working text of the Commission.
According to Allan Carlson in Globalizing Family Values, the Declaration's pro-family phrases were the result of the Christian Democratic movement's influence on Cassin and Malik.
Once the committee finished its work in May 1948, the draft was further discussed by the Commission on Human Rights, the Economic and Social Council, the Third Committee of the General Assembly before being put to vote in December 1948. During these discussions many amendments and propositions were made by UN Member States.
British representatives were extremely frustrated that the proposal had moral but no legal obligation. (It was not until 1976 that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force, giving a legal status to most of the Declaration.)
On 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly by a vote of 48 in favour, none against, and eight abstentions (the Soviet Union, Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR, People's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, People's Republic of Poland, Union of South Africa, Czechoslovakia, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Honduras and Yemen—both members of UN at the time—failed to vote or abstain. South Africa's position can be seen as an attempt to protect its system of apartheid, which clearly violated any number of articles in the Declaration. The Saudi Arabian delegation's abstention was prompted primarily by two of the Declaration's articles: Article 18, which states that everyone has the right "to change his religion or belief"; and Article 16, on equal marriage rights. The six communist nations abstentions centred around the view that the Declaration did not go far enough in condemning fascism and Nazism. Eleanor Roosevelt attributed the abstention of the Soviet bloc nations to Article 13, which provided the right of citizens to leave their countries.
48 countries voted in favour of the Declaration:
The underlying structure of the Universal Declaration was introduced in its second draft, which was prepared by René Cassin. Cassin worked from a first draft, which was prepared by John Peters Humphrey. The structure was influenced by the Code Napoléon, including a preamble and introductory general principles.