The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world and it was after the world war 2 that they formed UDHR with the promise of war of such kind would never exist. The chairperson of the human rights commission and group of researchers prepared the document with aim of preventing such world war and to come up with ways on how humans should treat each other, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 General Assembly resolution 217A as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the midst of an especially bitter phase of the Cold War. Many people contributed to this remarkable achievement, but most observers believe that the UN Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the Declaration, would not have succeeded in reaching agreement without the leadership of the Commissions chair Eleanor Roosevelt.
In 1946, Roosevelt was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations by President Harry Truman, who had succeeded to the White House after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. As head of the Human Rights Commission, she was instrumental in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she submitted to the United Nations General Assembly. This declaration may well become the international great charter for all men everywhere. Eleanor Roosevelt added by stating that one should do what they feel is right because people at the end of the day will criticize what a person does.
Eleanor Roosevelt played a major role as she chaired the subcommittee of the Commission on Human Rights responsible for drafting the document as she did not encourage meaningless argument and pushed people to work tirelessly till late night so as to finish the work and this caused some of the people to hate her. Even more important was her realization that the declaration must be adopted quickly and not disintegrate into prolonged debate where egos and national concerns could have some malice and hence derail the document. She urged that the subcommittee separate the legally binding covenants from the declaration as the declaration was only a formal statement with no legal binding, she supported the subcommittee responsible for drafting the covenants on civil and political rights and economic and social rights, and convinced the State Department not to oppose this approach.
Eleanor Roosevelt herself regarded her role in drafting and securing adoption of the Declaration as her greatest achievement as the social economic rights were adhered to and the rights of mankind were also addressed. As she readily admitted due to lack of legal training or expert knowledge of parliamentary procedure she only had her political activist skills and some advocate skills which she had been practicing that guided her through the preparation of the document and also the understanding of the meaning of freedom earned through a deep engagement in the struggle in her own country for social and economic justice, civil rights, and womens rights also helped her.
Eleanor had travelled the world and witnessed the poverty and mistreatment of humans and also violation of their rights and she felt her position on the Commission was to be the ambassador for the common people which included the poor and the slaves who were being tortured because she understood the rights of mankind. Eleanor encouraged equal treatment as she wanted every member of the Commission to be recognized and their ideas to be heard and used. For example, although she did not want to be picky with the wording of the UDHR, she agreed with the Indian delegate who was adamant in creating a completely equal document with references to people rather than using the word man. She possessed not only a passionate commitment to human rights, but a hard earned knowledge of the political and cultural obstacles to securing them in a divided world.
Mrs. Roosevelt soon found herself embroiled in bitter confrontations with the Russian who wanted a provision after each article saying it was up to the state to determine whether a specific right was being observed. But Mrs. Roosevelt was not of the opinion and hence she pushed for the inclusion of economic and social rights which included the rights to employment and equal pay, education which is compulsory, health care which included children out of wedlock which the economic rights should not be less important than political rights and should be included in the declaration. Despite this move to meet them part way, the Russians were very upset. They had decided that the Universal Declaration would not be to their liking. They made some accusation on racial discrimination and unemployment in the United States and Mrs. Roosevelt send a team of Russians to observe the racial problems in the United States on blacks if only she could do the same to the Soviet Union.
The Universal Declaration by 1948 had been finalized and framed as Mrs. Roosevelt wanted, in simple and understandable language, it drew heavily on the American Bill of Rights which provides a broad area in their constitution on the bill of rights especially on political and civil rights but has failed to cater for social economic rights in some state, the British great charter mainly on the 1998 human rights act which included the right to life ,the right to fair trial and freedom of expression and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.
It consisted of a preamble which discourages the contempt of human right but encourages a world where human rights are enjoyed this include the freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and 30 articles setting forth fundamental rights and freedoms. Article 1 set the basic philosophy of the Declaration which states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and should encourage the spirit of brotherhood. Article 2 set out the principle of non-discrimination in the enjoyment of human rights and it sets out that one should not be discriminated on race, sex, language, religion and one opinion.
Articles 3 through 21 laid down political and civil rights, including the right to life under article 3 and security of person, article 4 prohibits slave trade in all forms or servitude, article 5 talks on freedom from torture or degrading treatment or punishment, article 9 talks on freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal which is provided under article 8 and one should be provided for with a remedy on any violation of their rights, freedom of thought and religion, freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly and association.
Articles 22 through 27 established economic, social and cultural rights. These included under article 22 which stated that every member is entitled to social security through the national and international cooperation, article 13 right to work with no discrimination and free to join any trade union with fare remuneration, article 25 the right to a standard of living with adequate health and this include at the time of employment and it also caters for children born out of wedlock, article 24 talks about the right to rest and leisure and limitation of working hours and this for example can be taken as the Kenyan system whereas everyone works from 8-5 and free during the public holidays, article 26 talks on the right of education which is compulsory and parents have the obligation of choosing what kind of school the child should attend and article 27 protects the culture and the material interest . The majority of this rights today have been adopted by various countries such as the south African constitution recognizes the social economic rights and also the Kenyan constitution which has its provision under article 43 of the constitution of Kenya and it has also provided on the measure on which the government can take on social economic right under article 22
In conclusion the UDHR, adopted in 1948, does not carry the influence of international law. However, it does set forth international norms of behaviour for governments to their citizens and foreigners. It states that every person is equal regardless to sex, race, language, religion, opinion or politics. It has impacted the constitutions created after world war 2 and this included the Kenyan constitution which was formulated in 2010 has adopted many articles and rights from it which included article 28 on the human dignity and article 43 on social economic rights and also the group rights on the women and the marginalized group in the society, and it has been the inspiration for over twenty legal binding human rights treaties that were created post World War II. Many governments look to the UDHR for guidance in setting ethical ordinances in their nations. However, most importantly, the UDHR entered the consciousness of people around the world about the importance of human rights for all. UDHR today stands as the most widely recognized statement of human rights every created and it led to the formation of various international convention such as the international convention of social economic right of 1966, the convention on the elimination of all form of discrimination against women of 1979.
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