UPSC Exam Preparation: This Day in History – Dec 10

10 December 1948

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

What happened?

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Declaration - Picture

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Declaration

On 10 December 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris, France. This day is celebrated throughout the world as Human Rights Day. Read more about this incident for the IAS exam


  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a document which consists of 30 articles that affirm an individual’s rights.
  • This was the first step in formulating an International Bill of Human Rights that came into force in 1976.
  • Although the declaration is not legally binding, these rights have been enshrined in many countries’ constitutions and national laws.
  • After the full horrors of the Second World War came into the fore, it was considered that a universal international declaration on individual rights was required since the UN Charter was not sufficient in itself.
  • The United Nations then established the Commission of Human Rights in 1946 to prepare an international bill of rights. This Commission had 18 members all from different nations and having variant political ideologies.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt was the Chairperson of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Drafting Committee that drafted the articles. This Committee met for over two years.
  • The Declaration’s chief drafter was John Peters Humphrey, a Canadian and the Director of the Division of Human Rights within the United Nations Secretariat. Other important members of this committee were France’s René Cassin, China’s P C Chang and Lebanon’s Charles Malik.
  • The Committee completed its task by May 1948. After that, the draft declaration was discussed by the Commission on Human Rights, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council of the UN. After making many changes, the declaration was put to vote by the General Assembly in December 1948.
  • This Universal Declaration was adopted as Resolution 217 by the Assembly on 10 December 1948. Out of the 58 nations (membership of the UN at that time), 48 voted in favour, 8 abstained, 2 failed to vote and none voted against the declaration. India voted in favour of the Declaration.
  • The Soviet Bloc abstained observing that the declaration was not sufficient in condemning Nazism and fascism. Saudi Arabia abstained because it had objections to the ‘Right to change his religion or belief’. South Africa abstained since its policy of apartheid violated most of the articles in the declaration.
  • Human Rights Day is observed annually on this day to mark the adoption of the Declaration.

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Content of the Declaration

  • There are 30 articles and a Preamble.
  • Articles 1 – 2: concepts of dignity, liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
  • Articles 3 – 11: individual rights like right to life and prohibition of slavery; fundamental legality of human rights.
  • Articles 12 – 17: individual rights towards the community including freedom of movement.
  • Articles 18 – 21: constitutional liberties like political, public and spiritual freedoms; freedom of thought, opinion, religion and conscience, word and peaceful association.
  • Articles 22 – 27: economic, social and cultural rights; healthcare.
  • Articles 28 – 30: ways of using these rights and areas where they cannot be applied.
Also on this day

1878: Birth of C Rajagopalachari, freedom fighter and the only Indian Governor-General of India. 1896: Death of Alfred Nobel, Swedish inventor and businessman, who willed his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes.

See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.

Also read:

League of Nations
United Nations
French National Constituent Assembly publishes the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man’

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