The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a historic document that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at its third session on 10 December 1948 as Resolution 217 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. Of the then 58 members of the United Nations, 48 voted in favor, none against, eight abstained, and two did not vote.
The Declaration consists of 30 articles affirming an individual’s rights which, although not legally binding in themselves, have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, economic transfers, regional human rightsinstruments, national constitutions, and other laws. The Declaration was the first step in the process of formulating the International Bill of Human Rights, which was completed in 1966, and came into force in 1976, after a sufficient number of countries had ratified them.
Some legal scholars have argued that because countries have constantly invoked the Declaration over more than 50 years, it has become binding as a part of customary international law. However, in the United States, the Supreme Court in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain (2004), concluded that the Declaration “does not of its own force impose obligations as a matter of international law.” Courts of other countries have also concluded that the Declaration is not in itself part of domestic law.
Structure and content
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. Cassin compared the Declaration to the portico of a Greek temple, with a foundation, steps, four columns, and a pediment.
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The Declaration consists of a preamble and thirty articles:
- The preamble sets out the historical and social causes that led to the necessity of drafting the Declaration.
- Articles 1—2 established the basic concepts of dignity, liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
- Articles 3—11 established other individual rights, such as the right to life and the prohibition of slavery.
- Articles 6—11 refer to the fundamental legality of human rights with specific remedies cited for their defence when violated.
- Articles 12–17 established the rights of the individual towards the community (including such things as freedom of movement).
- Articles 18–21 sanctioned the so-called “constitutional liberties”, and with spiritual, public, and political freedoms, such as freedom of thought, opinion, religion and conscience, word, and peaceful association of the individual.
- Articles 22–27 sanctioned an individual’s economic, social and cultural rights, including healthcare. Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” It also makes additional accommodations for security in case of physical debilitation or disability, and makes special mention of care given to those in motherhood or childhood.
- Articles 28—30 established the general ways of using these rights, the areas in which these rights of the individual can not be applied, and that they can not be overcome against the individual.
These articles are concerned with the duty of the individual to society and the prohibition of use of rights in contravention of the purposes of the United Nations Organisation.
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