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Fundamental Rights

he Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The modern conception of human rights dates from the 1940s. The appalling abuses of human dignity and the disrespect for human life epitomised by the Holocaust were so shocking to popular opinion that governments formed a new organisation, the United Nations (UN), with a commitment to justice and peace in the world. The Charter of the UN was signed in 1945 and it proclaims respect for human rights as the means to achieving world peace. An international Human Rights Commission was established to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the UN on 10 December 1948.[4]

The main innovation of the UDHR is that it recognises, for the first time, a universal entitlement to rights applying to all ‘members of the human family’. Previously, because of a concern for national sovereignty, states were immune from external control or moral pressure when they enacted discriminatory legislation or allowed their agents freedom to undertake extra-judicial killings or torture.

The UDHR has little legal power but it has huge moral force because there is agreement across national, religious and cultural boundaries that it sets out the principles and minimum standards to be respected by individuals and governments. This common language for describing entitlements and discrimination has been adopted across the world.

The preamble to the UDHR sets out the aims of the Declaration, namely to contribute to ‘freedom, justice and peace in the world’. This is to be achieved by the universal recognition of, and respect for, human rights. Human rights are then precisely defined in 30 articles. These can be summarised as: