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Human Rights Day

December 10

Human Rights Day is observed each year to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The adoption of the UDHR was proclaimed in resolution 217 A (III).

Human Rights Day originated in 1950 when the General Assembly invited all nations to observe December 10 as Human Rights Day through resolution 423(V).

The UDHR was drafted as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations” and was the first universal statement that all human beings have certain inherent rights that are inalienable. Prior to its adoption human rights had been expressed in other international and domestic instruments, such as the Charter of the United Nations and the United States Bill of Rights, but there was no dedicated statement about human rights at the international level.

The UDHR consists of a preamble and thirty articles covering such human rights as freedom of expression, assembly, movement, and religion. It sets out the basic principle of equality and non-discrimination in terms of the enjoyment of human rights, and affirms that everyone shall be free from slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest or detention. Article 1 describes the philosophy on which the UDHR is based. It reads:

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Although it is not a binding document, the UDHR can be seen as contributing to the understanding, implementation, and development of international human rights law. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states (PDF) that the UDHR “has set the direction for all subsequent work in the field of human rights and has provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments designed to protect the rights and freedoms which it proclaims.” There have been a number of international covenants on different aspects of human rights since the adoption of the UDHR. While not all governments have become parties to all of these treaties, all UN member countries have accepted the UDHR. The UDHR has also inspired some of the wording of constitutions of different countries around the world.

The UDHR has now been translated into 370 languages and dialects and holds the Guinness World Record as being the most translated document in the world.

The sixtieth anniversary of the UDHR was celebrated on Human Rights Day 2008. The UN Secretary General launched a campaign for the year leading up to the anniversary with the theme “Dignity and Justice for All of Us.” Past observances have had a range of themes, including human rights education, torture, and fighting poverty. The UN holds various events and meetings on Human Rights Day and has established the Human Rights Prize to recognize “outstanding achievements in the field of human rights.” The day is also observed by various government and non-government organizations through statements, events, and publications including the United States where presidents have issued proclamation for Human Rights Day for more than 60 years.


December 10
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