The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration) is an international document that states the basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled.
When was the Universal Declaration created?
The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. Motivated by the experiences of the preceding world wars, the Universal Declaration was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights.
What does the Universal Declaration say?
The Universal Declaration begins by recognising that ‘the inherent dignity of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.
It declares that human rights are universal – to be enjoyed by all people, no matter who they are or where they live.
The Universal Declaration includes civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health and education.
Is the Universal Declaration legally binding?
The Universal Declaration is not a treaty, so it does not directly create legal obligations for countries.
However, it is an expression of the fundamental values which are shared by all members of the international community. And it has had a profound influence on the development of international human rights law. Some argue that because countries have consistently invoked the Declaration for more than fifty years, it has become binding as a part of customary international law.
Further, the Universal Declaration has given rise to a wide range of other international agreements which are legally binding on the countries that ratify them. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). For more information on the relationship between these treaties and the Universal Declaration, see Human Rights Explained: The International Bill of Rights.
Many other international agreements expand on the rights contained in the Universal Declaration. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).