The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation of international human rights law and just as relevant now as it was when it was created 70 years ago.
It represents the recognition that basic rights and fundamental freedoms are inherent to all human beings, whatever their nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. It is the great grandparent of our own Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care.
Since its origins in the aftermath of World War Two, the Declaration has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and declarations, a great number of regional human rights conventions, domestic human rights bills and constitutional provisions. Together , they constitute a comprehensive, legally binding, system for the promotion and protection of human rights.
To mark its anniversary, this is the first of a short series of articles on the importance of understanding, promoting and safeguarding rights, particularly those of children and young people growing up in care.
Spurred by the global tragedy of the Second World War, the United Nations was formally created in October 1945 after representatives of the original 51 member countries signed or ratified the United Nations Charter. Early in its existence, the UN decided a roadmap was required to complement the Charter and to guarantee the fundamental rights of every individual. This ultimately led to the development and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Declaration was drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds, drawn from all regions of the world. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the drafting committee. Australia was represented on that committee by William Hodgson.
When the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in December 1948, the UN consisted of 58 member states. Since then, membership has grown to 193 and the Declaration has become a global document. In 1999, the Guinness Book of Records declared it the most translated document in the world and it has been translated into more than 500 languages. One of the most remote languages is Pipil – an almost extinct language spoken in El Salvador by less than 50, mainly elderly, people. In this way, translating the Declaration has also served to preserve culture.
Over time, international human rights treaties have become more focused and specialised, addressing a variety of defined social groups and issues, many relevant to our own community. They include, for example, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Particularly relevant to the work of the Guardian’s Office is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Signed by 196 countries, and ratified by every member state of the UN, except the United States, the Convention came into force in 1990 and is the most widely ratified human rights treaty.
Under South Australia’s legislation, the Guardian’s Office is responsible for developing and implementing the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care – which is just one of the ways the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child influence our work.
In our next newsletter, we’ll look at the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
More information about the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be found on this web page.
This story first appeared in the Guardian’s Newsletter for February 2018, downloadable here.