The Development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Laurence Peters


When the US Department of State committee that was authorized to work on plans for the United Nations (UN) first produced its Outline Plan to the President in 1943, there was no mention made of human rights. Human rights concerns were assumed to be included under the organizations’ general purpose, then conceived as promoting “through cooperative effort the social advancement of nations and peoples.” The big three powers (the United States, USSR, and the United Kingdom) were more concerned about making sure any international body did nothing to affect their sovereignty—international law (following the Treaty of Westphalia) held that how a nation treated its own people, with some rare exceptions, was basically its own business. The League of Nations had also taken this view despite being made aware of the atrocities of the First World War.


United Nations Universal Declaration Geneva Convention Intellectual Tradition Confucian Tradition 
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  1. 7.
    W. Korey, NGOs and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “A Curious Grapevine” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998), p. 14.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    See, in particular, M. A. Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2002), pp. 235–241.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine. (Quoted in S. McIntire and W. Burns, Speeches in World History [Infobase, 2009], p. 116.)Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    Equal rights, as S. Moyn expertly points out in The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2010), “always went along with the propagation of national sovereignty as indispensable means, entailed precondition, and enduring accompaniment” (p. 28).Google Scholar
  5. 23.
    E. Biglieri and G. Prati, Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2014), p. 511.Google Scholar
  6. 29.
    “It is not the right to be a permanent visitor that one may demand. A special beneficent agreement would be needed in order to give an outsider a right to become a fellow inhabitant for a certain length of time. It is only a right of temporary sojourn, a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other.” I. Kant, Third Definitive Article for a Perpetual Peace (Minneapolis, MN: Filiquarian, 2007), p. 21.Google Scholar
  7. 34.
    As Emperor Tiberius famously said, “If the gods are insulted, let them see to it themselves.” J. B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought (New York: Holt, 1913), p. 40.Google Scholar
  8. 38.
    “When the Ta Tao or Grand Way prevails, the world is for the welfare of all. Provisions are made for the aged, employment is provided for the able-bodied and education is afforded the young. Widows and widowers, orphans and the childless, the deformed and the diseased are all cared for.” See A. Sharma, The World’s Religions: A Contemporary Reader (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), p. 109.Google Scholar

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© Laurence Peters 2015

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  • Laurence Peters

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