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UN Documentation: Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the first UN documents to elaborate the principles of human rights mentioned in the UN Charter. It was adopted by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) on 10 December 1948, by a vote of 48-0-8.

Human Rights Day is celebrated on 10 December every year.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is one part of the resolution on the "International Bill of Human Rights" (A/RES/217 (III)). Following the adoption of this five-part resolution in 1948, two covenants were drafted that are also considered part of the International Bill of Human Rights, both were adopted in 1966:

Unlike the covenants, the UDHR is not a treaty and has not been signed or ratified by states. See the UN Treaty Collection Glossary for more information on declarations.

The UN has adopted many more declarations and conventions on human rights topics since 1948. The lists on the UN Treaty Collection and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights websites are excellent starting points for research.

Drafting

The drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights took place from 1946-1948 in several bodies including:

  • Drafting Committee
  • Commission on Human Rights
  • Economic and Social Council
  • General Assembly, including the Third Committee

Documents related to the drafting are available online through the ODS, UN Digital Library and the Drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights research guide. Links to additional archival materials are found in the UNOG research guide on the UDHR.

There are several ways to approach research on the drafting of the UDHR. Procedural histories or travaux préparatoires of the UDHR provide reference to the documents including drafts of the declaration, proposals by countries, meeting records, reports, and voting information.

  • A very brief overview of the drafting is found in the UDHR70: 30 Articles - 30 Documents guide.
  • The UN Audiovisual Library of International Law has a brief scholarly procedural history of the UDHR, including an overview of the drafting process, links to selected UN documents, and related audio, video and photos.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The Travaux Préparatoires. Edited by William A. Schabas. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 3157 p. (library holdings in WorldCat) This reference book not only includes the relevant documents, but also indexes the documents by subject, article of the UDHR, personal name of participants, and country. This is an excellent starting point for research on country positions and the drafting of specific articles or paragraphs.
  • Many additional websites, articles and books concern the UDHR, its drafting, its impact and/or various aspects of the declaration. Consult your librarian for help finding material available to you.

Drafters

The drafters of the UDHR included many prominent people from around the world. The meeting records of the drafting bodies list the participants in the meetings; meeting records of the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly generally name just the presiding officer and the speakers. Eleanor Roosevelt served as the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights during the drafting of the UDHR; she is sometimes referred to in meeting records as Chairman or Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Some sources for starting research on the drafters include:

Location

The meetings of the various drafting bodies were held in different places. The meeting records or the reports of the bodies on their sessions indicate the date, time and location of the meetings. The declaration was adopted at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, where the third session of the General Assembly was held. The meeting at which the UDHR was adopted (A/PV.183) was held in the "grande salle" of the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. The Palais is a theatre and the "grande salle" is its main room.

Translations

At the time of the adoption of the UDHR in 1948, resolutions of the General Assembly were published in Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish. Over 500 translations can be found on the UDHR website of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, including videos in several sign languages.

Links and Resources