The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Politics and Provisions (1945–1948)

  • Roland Burke
  • James Kirby
Living reference work entry
Part of the International Human Rights book series (IHR)


The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights established an international standard for measuring the enjoyment or violation of the rights entitled to all members of the human family. The final 30-article text emerged out of a protracted drafting process entangled by the philosophical idealism, sovereign self-interest, and bureaucratic politics of national delegates. Discussions began in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in January 1947, ending in an overwhelming vote of endorsement in the General Assembly on 10 December 1948. The Declaration embodied an organic unity between civil, political, economic, and social rights that were equal, inherent, and inalienable for all persons. Delegates reached broad agreement on the synthesis between political liberalism and social democratic thought, while divisions lingered on the sequencing of political and civil rights before socioeconomic rights, and the silence on collective rights. All articles were universal in scope, reaching out to all without discrimination. The final draft, short of being universal in geographic input and cultural perspectives, far from precluded a wide space for plurality. The debates were influenced by ideas of Western, Soviet, Islamic, Latin American, and Confucian origin. The decades after 1948 exhibited the Declaration’s power in norms and customary law, as well as its limits as a nonbinding instrument vulnerable to outright abuse by states and hypocrisy by advocates. The vision of 10 December 1948 did not solve the problem of preventing human rights abuses but offered a pathway for such a world to be imagined.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights United Nations United Nations Commission on Human Rights Eleanor Roosevelt John P. Humphrey René Cassin Colonialism Cold War 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.La Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Durham UniversityDurhamUK

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