At the end of 1948, shortly after World War II had ended, the United Nations convened in Paris to declare that every person across the world is entitled to certain inalienable rights. One of the Allies’ main goals during the war was to implement a number of fundamental freedoms for individuals. Many of these were later implemented into the more comprehensive Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The UDHR has changed slightly since the formal declaration was originally drafted in 1948. It was officially signed into international law by a satisfactory majority of United Nations member countries in 1976 as part of the International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR).
The IBHR also included the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The latter two international covenants were separated because member countries of the United Nations believed there was a stark difference between political rights and cultural rights. In addition to stating the rights of individuals regardless of state affiliation, it attempts to implement the rights in the countries that have ratified them.
The three parts of the IBHR contain a lot of similar verbiage including definitions of various freedoms, health standards and education. Leaders understood that changes would not happen overnight so provisions were written in to allow for “progressive realization” wherein countries would be recognized if they were taking steps to implementing standards.
While most UN countries adopted the UDHR at the time, there were some notable countries that did not. Saudi Arabia, a long-time ally of the United States, did not sign the agreement because it included provisions on freedom of religion.
Though the UDHR is not an official treaty, variations of its language have been used to create a number of international treaties. International Human Rights Day is held every year on the 10th of December in observance of the day the UDHR was signed into law.
A video animation of the UDHR can be seen below: