The following article recently appeared as the feature story in an issue of the Chicago Federalist, published by the World Federalist Association / Citizens for Global Solutions, a citizen's support group of the United Nations activities.
The Universal Declaration of
Historical Timeline of Essential Events
by Charles Paidock, WFA Vice-President, Chicago Chapter
Over the past fifty years the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become a cornerstone of customary international law. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the UDHR represents the first comprehensive agreement among nations as to the specific rights and freedoms of all human beings. It is the primary international articulation of the fundamental and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. It represents the first time in history that people from cultures throughout the world worked together to formulate a comprehensive and common vision of inalienable rights. It was originally intended, and remains today, as stated in its preamble:
"a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations."
The formation of the UDHR spanned nearly a three year period, with a total of 1400 separate votes taken on various issues. The intention was to enumerate and articulate the specific rights and freedoms that had been more broadly guaranteed to all in the United Nation's Charter. Most of the debate and discussion centered on negotiating differences in cultural and historical perspectives. A special group was employed to sort out the differences in meaning of every word of each article as translated through the official languages of the United Nations. Never before had such a diverse group of people come together to explain the values and traditions that define the core nature of their respective societies. The intention was to arrive at a standard necessary to the person who would realize his or her full potential as a human being.
The concept of human rights has existed under several names in the intellectual, political, and religious history of the world for many centuries. As an ideology, it can trace its roots back to any number of sundry significant events and/or concepts, each one more advanced than the previous. These each have their merits, and will usually generate debate and discussion. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating story of individuals and events which contributed ultimately to the development of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Although historically this previous century will later be looked upon perhaps by some as a dark one due to conflicts of a global nature, the full development of a fundamental, and forward-looking, philosophical perspective on the human condition will surely stand out as a singular achievement.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Now therefore, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.
1. Right to Equality
2. Freedom from Discrimination
3. Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Safety
4. Freedom from Slavery
5. Freedom from Torture, Degrading Treatment
6. Right to Recognition as a Person Before the Law
7. Right to Equality Before the Law
8. Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal
9. Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest, Exile
10. Right to Fair Public Hearing
11. Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty
12. Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and
13. Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country
14. Right to Asylum in Other Countries from Persecution
15. Right to a Nationality and Freedom to Change It
16. Right to Marriage and Family
17. Right to Own Property
18. Freedom to Belief and Religion
19. Freedom of Opinion and Information
20. Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association
21. Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections
22. Right to Social Security
23. Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions
24. Right to Rest and Leisure
25. Right to Adequate Living Standard
26. Right to Education
27. Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of the Community
28. Right to Social Order Assuring Human Rights
29. Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development
30. Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights.
The following events are generally recognized as significant in any discussion of human rights. The list also includes and recognizes certain individuals who influenced our contemporary thoughts. Given the general nature of our knowledge of history, obviously some will be more familiar, or regarded as more or less important than others. Everyone should become at least familiar with the circumstances surrounding each. A brief explanation has been provided for those which one might not have an awareness.
1750 - Code of Hammurabi
Codes associated with such names as Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Draco, Solon, and Manu outline standards of conduct for fairly homogenous groups within limited territorial jurisdictions. The codes in general were give to man by the gods, and aimed at uniformity in law in a given land.
1200-300 BCE - Old Testament
The Hebrew Scriptures, 39 books by many authors, recorded the law that the Israelites believed their God had given to them. The Mosaic laws commanded respect for life and the property of strangers as well as neighbors be establishing rights in terms of duties (the right to life, for example, was expressed in the commandment "Thou Shalt not Kill").
551-479 BCE - Confucius
Confucious' teachings, collected in the Analects and spread by 3000 disciples, became a code of conduct and the basis of a traditional way of life that made him the most influential philosopher in Chinese history. His teachings emphasize the individual's responsibilities to the community.
500-300 BCE - Greek City-States
Political rights (and duties) conferred upon free male citizens.
27 BCE - 476 CE - Cicero
Roman Empire develops natural law, rights of citizens.
40-100 CE - New Testament
The Apostle Paul, who wrote some New Testament books in prison, said that among Jesus' followers, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female."
529 - Code of Justinian
Byzantime Emperor who issued a series of books which formed the basis of civil law, the Corpus Juris Civilis. Advance the concept of "justice," and things which are common to all and not capable of being owned. Traces of it survived until 1900 in certain countries.
1215 - Magna Carta
King John acknowledges that free men are entitled to judgement by their pers, and that even a sovereign is not above the law.
1583-1645 - Hugo Grotius
Dutch jurist credited with the birth of international law, spoke of the brotherhood of humankind.
1648 - Treaty of Westphalia
The treaty led to the modern notion of national sovereignty by freeing state rules from church jurisdiction. Established religious toleration, right to private worship, liberty of conscience, and emigration.
1689 - English Bill of Rights
Forbade royalty to suspend law, specified free elections, and declared that freedom of speech in Parliament was not to be questioned, in the courts or elsewhere.
1700-1800 - Enlightenment
Several philosophers proposed the concept of "natural rights," rights belonging to a person by nature and because one was a human being, not by virture of one's citizenship. Among these were Montesquieu, Arouet de Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, and Hendy David Thoreau.
1787 - United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights
1789 - Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
Replaced the system of aristocratic privileges that had existed under the monarch with the principle of equality before the law.
1815 - Congress of Vienna
International concern for human rights is demonstrated for the first time in modern history. Freedom of religion is proclaimed, civil and political rights discussed, slave trade condemned.
1833 - Abolition Act / Great Britain
Wilber Wilberforce succeeds in ending slavery in the British Empire.
1848 - Seneca Falls Convention
Some 200 woemn and men meet to draft document outlining social, civil, and religious rights of women.
1864, 1949 - Geneva Convention
The first international treaty governing the conduct of nations in wartime which marks the origin of modern humanitarian law. Revised and amended several times, four conventions aim to ensure that human dignity is respected even during hostilities.
1869-1948 - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Developed his tactics of non-violent confrontation based on the principle of respect for life, he called his strategy "satyagraha" (truth force). His "constructive program" consisted of movements against class discrimination and for Muslim-Hindu unity, women's rights, and basic education.
1885/90 - Berlin/Brussels Conferences
Passed an antislavery act.
1919 -International Labor Organization/League of Nations Covenant
Established to encompass concerns such as employment discrimination, forced labor, and worker safety.
1924 - Snyder Act
Admits all Native Americans born in the United States of America to full U.S. citizenship.
1942 - Rene Cassin
Urges than an international court be created to punish those guilty of war crimes. Later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1948 - United Nations General Assembly adopts the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The first comprehensive agreement is adopted among nations as to the specific rights and freedoms of all human beings.