Editorial Articles

volume-36, 8-14 December 2018


70 years of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Dr. Aparna Srivastava & Aditya Anshu

On 10 December 2018, it will be seventy years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. Thanks to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and States' commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted, untold human suffering prevented and the foundations for a most just world have been laid.

Introduction to UDHR

The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration was adopted in the aftermath of the horrors and suffering of the Second World War and has been the cornerstone of the development of a global project committed to the protection of human rights, a project which the Preamble to the Universal Declaration declares to be 'the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world'. The Universal Declaration was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights. It declares that human rights are universal - to be enjoyed by all people, no matter who they are or where they live. The Universal Declaration includes civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech and privacy. It also includes economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health and education.

The Universal Declaration is not a treaty, so it does not directly create legal obligations for countries. However, it is an expression of the fundamental values which are shared by all members of the international community. And it has had a profound influence on the development of international human rights law. Some argue that because countries have consistently invoked the Declaration for more than sixty years, it has become binding as a part of customary international law. Further, the Universal Declaration has given rise to a range of other international agreements which are legally binding on the countries that ratify them. These include:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  and 

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Other binding agreements which expand on the rights contained in the Universal Declaration include:

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1965.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1979.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006.

The values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are as relevant and timeless today as they were 70 years ago. This is a challenging time for human rights advocates: a time when many human rights norms and standards are under threat, when we are witnessing a rise in xenophobic populism, profiling on racial and religious grounds, attacks on human rights defenders, and pushback against multilateral institutions, including this Council.

It is therefore timely to reflect on what "universality" means, 70 years on, and its applicability to today's challenges:

It means that all human beings are entitled to full realization of all of their rights, without exception.  It means that migrants don't check their human

UDHR in detail

The UDHR has an amazing legacy. Its universal appeal is reflected in the fact that it holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated document - available to date in 512 languages, from Abkhaz to Zulu.

As stated in the preamble, "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." The Declaration empowers all of us to stand up for our own human rights and those of others.

The Declaration is a living document, universal in scope and fiercely relevant to each individual.

Article 1

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.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11

Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations

Article 15

Everyone has the right to a nationality.

No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17

Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21

Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29

Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Human Rights and India

India took active part in drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Indian delegation to the United Nations made important contributions in drafting of the Declaration, especially highlighting the need for reflecting gender equality. India is a signatory to the six core human rights covenants, and also the two Optional Protocols to the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Since inception, the Indian Constitution incorporated most of the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration in two parts, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy, that covered almost the entire field of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The first set of rights are enunciated in Articles 2 to 21 of the Declaration and incorporated under the Fundamental Rights - Articles 12 to 35 of the Constitution. These include the Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, Right Against Exploitation, Right to Freedom of Religion, Cultural & Educational Rights, Saving of Certain Laws and Right to Constitutional Remedies.

The second set of rights enunciated in Articles 22 to 28 of the Declaration is incorporated under Directive Principles of State Policy - Article 36 to 51 of the Constitution. These include 'right to social security, right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and protection against unemployment, right to equal pay for equal work, right to existence worthy of human dignity, right to rest and leisure, right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, right to free & compulsory education, promotion of welfare of people, equal justice & free legal aid and the principles of policy to be followed by the State.'

However, respect for human rights as a part of its social philosophy has existed in the Indian ethos for a long time.

Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (As amended in 2006) provided for the constitution of a National Human Rights Commission at the Union level, which steers State Human Rights Commission in States and Human Rights Courts for better protection of Human Rights and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The National Human Rights Commission and the State Human Rights Commissions are now very much a part of the life of the nation and, increasingly, of consequence to the quality of governance in the country. Awareness of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and included in the international instruments to which India is a State party, has increased dramatically in the country.


The universal ideals contained in the Declaration's 30 Articles range from the most fundamental - the right to life - to those that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health and liberty. Emphasizing the inherent dignity of every human being, its Preamble underlines that human rights are "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

With the memories of both World Wars and the Great Depression still fresh in their minds, the drafters spelled out what cannot be done to human beings and what must be done for them. 

Chilean drafter Hernán Santa Cruz observed that the then 58 member states of the UN had agreed that human rights derive from "the fact of existing" - they are not granted by any state. This recognition, he said "gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one's personality."

Because they are inherent to every woman, man and child, the rights listed in the 30 Articles are indivisible- they are all equally important and cannot be positioned in a hierarchy. No one human right can be fully realised without realising all other rights. Put another way, denial of one right makes it more difficult to enjoy the others.

The human rights movement has made great strides in the past seven decades, but abuses still occur with saddening regularity. The anniversary of the Declaration is an opportunity to celebrate successes and recommit ourselves to the principles outlined in the Declaration's 30 Articles.

(Dr. Aparna Srivastava is Head, School of Liberal Arts and Associate Professor  Dept. of Political Science & Human Rights, Noida International University. Mr Aditya Anshu is an Assistant Professor in Dept. of Political Science at Noida International University. Email: aditya.anshu@ niu.edu.in)

Views expressed are personal.