The Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains as relevant today as it was on the day in 1948 that it was proclaimed and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The extraordinary vision and resolve of the drafters produced a document that, for the first time, articulated the rights and freedoms to which every human being is equally and inalienably entitled.
Now available in more than 360 languages, the Declaration is the most translated document in the world — a testament to its global nature and reach. It has become a yardstick by which we measure right and wrong. It provides a foundation for a just and decent future for all, and has given people everywhere a powerful tool in the fight against oppression, impunity and affronts to human dignity.
The commitment of the United Nations to human rights stems from the Organization’s founding Charter. The international community has a duty to uphold and defend these rights. Let us ensure that those people who most need their rights protected are made aware that this Declaration exists — and that it exists for them. Let us each do our part to make these universal rights a living reality for every man, woman and child, everywhere.
BAN Ki-moon, Secretary General
In perhaps the most resonant and beautiful words of any international agreement, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. The commitments made by all States in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in themselves a mighty achievement, discrediting the tyranny, discrimination and contempt for human beings that have marked human history.
The Universal Declaration promises to all the economic, social, political, cultural and civic rights that underpin a life free from want and fear. They are not a reward for good behaviour. They are not country-specific, or particular to a certain era or social group. They are the inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times, and in all places — people of every colour, from every race and ethnic group; whether or not they are disabled; citizens or migrants; no matter their sex, their class, their caste, their creed, their age or sexual orientation.
Human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted. But since then, countless people have gained greater freedom. Violations have been prevented; independence and autonomy have been attained. Many people – though not all – have been able to secure freedom from torture, unjustified imprisonment, summary execution, enforced disappearance, persecution and unjust discrimination, as well as fair access to education, economic opportunities, and adequate resources and health-care. They have obtained justice for wrongs, and national and international protection for their rights, through the strong architecture of the international human rights legal system.
The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It inspires us to continue working to ensure that all people can gain freedom, equality and dignity. One vital aspect of this task is to empower people to demand what should be guaranteed: their human rights. This booklet constitutes a modest but significant contribution to that work.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights