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Human Rights

Eleanor Roosvelt an important role in negotiating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .

Eleanor Roosevelt played an important role in negotiating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . Photo Credit UN.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1948, sets out basic rights and freedoms to which all women and men are entitled — among them the right to life, liberty and nationality; to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to work and to be educated; the right to food and housing; and the right to take part in government.

These rights are legally binding by virtue of two International Covenants, to which most States are parties. One Covenant deals with economic, social and cultural rightsand the other with civil and political rights . Together with the Declaration, they constitute the International Bill of Human Rights.

The Declaration laid the groundwork for some 80 conventions and declarations on human rights, including the two International Covenants; conventions to eliminate racial discrimination and discrimination against women ; conventions on the rights of the child , against torture , the status of refugees and the prevention and punishment of genocide ; and declarations on the rights of minorities , the right to development the rights of human rights defenders and the rights of indigenous peoples .

With its standards-setting work nearly complete, the UN is shifting the emphasis of its human rights efforts to the implementation of human rights laws. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, who coordinates UN human rights activities, works with governments to improve their observance of human rights, seeks to prevent violations, and works closely with the UN human rights mechanisms. The Human Rights Council , an intergovernmental body, works to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council works closely with independent experts — "special rapporteurs" — who report on specific human rights abuses or examine the human rights situation in specific countries.

UN human rights bodies contribute to early warning and conflict prevention, as well as in efforts to address the root causes of conflict. A number of UN peacekeeping operations have a human rights component. In all, UN human rights field activities are currently being carried out in some 30 countries or territories. They help strengthen national capacities in human rights legislation, administration and education; investigate reported violations; and assist governments in taking corrective measures when needed.

Promoting respect for human rights is increasingly central to UN development assistance. In particular, the right to development is seen as part of a dynamic process which integrates civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, and by which the well-being of all individuals in a society is improved. Key to the enjoyment of the right to development is the eradication of poverty , a major UN goal.