The Universal Declaration of Human Rights


  • In his famous book, Man and the State, the French philosopher Jacques Maritain draws attention to the universal essence of human rights above ideologies.


  • He says, “The recognition of a particular category of rights is not the privilege of one school of thought at the expense of the others; it is no more necessary to be a follower of Rousseau to recognise the rights of the individual man than it is to be a Marxist to recognise the economic and social rights.”

Universal Declaration:

  • The other drafters of the Universal Declaration were unaware of the contributions and influences of ancient philosophies and religions to the modern understanding of rights.
  • However, influenced by the spirit of the French Revolution and its revolutionary motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”, Cassin identified the four foundational blocks of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “dignity, liberty, equality, and brotherhood”.
  • By “dignity”, developed in the first two articles of the universal declaration, Cassin referred to all the values which were shared by individuals beyond their sex, race, creed and religion.
  • As for “liberty”, it included articles three to 19, and emphasised on rights related to individual life, liberty and personal security.
  • Under “equality”, Cassin understood rights related to the public sphere and political participation (articles 20 to 26), and, under “brotherhood” were economic, social and cultural rights (articles 27 and 28).
  • Finally, the three last articles (28, 29 and 30) focused on the conditions in which these could be realised in society and the state.

The concept of rights:

  • However, the concept of rights — long recognised in historically significant laws, charters and constitutions such as the Magna Carta (1215), American Declaration of Independence (1776), Bill of Rights (1791) and the French Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), and at the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 — did not succeed in overcoming the approaches of the states and individuals who distinguished between “themselves” and “others”.
  • Let us not forget that out of then 58 members of the United Nations, only 48 ratified the universal declaration while Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Poland, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Byelorussia and Czechoslovakia abstained, because they were worried that the moral appeal of the document would endanger the sanctity of their domestic laws and regulations.


  • However, despite the tireless struggles of three generations of individuals and institutions, and the impact of globalisation on human rights, the Universal Declaration is considered as a lantern of hope viewed from afar by political prisoners and refugees around the world. And yet, the philosophy of human rights continues to propel humanity into the future, where many still believe that justice, rights and peace can be constructed.
  • Therefore, if the lessons of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not learned, and if we do not consider the past 70 years, which separate us from the foundation of this monumental document as a positive journey; the future generations will have great difficulties in overcoming the challenges of the next 70 years.


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