Human rights – what do I need to know?


Universal Declaration of Human Rights



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Universal Declaration of Human Rights


In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights.

Australia played a significant role in the development of the Universal Declaration through the efforts of Dr HV Evatt, who was President of the General Assembly of the United Nations when the Universal Declaration was passed.

The Universal Declaration is not a treaty, so it does not directly create legal obligations for States. However, the Declaration has had a profound influence on the development of international human rights law, and it is globally accepted as a statement of fundamental rights and freedoms enjoyed by all human beings. Many countries have included its provisions in their basic laws or constitutions.

Those who drafted the Declaration were profoundly aware of the extreme human rights violations that had been perpetrated during World War II and the preceding years. So, the Declaration emphasised the inherent dignity of every person and noted that the recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the basis for freedom, justice and peace. The Universal Declaration is a powerful and eloquent statement of fundamental values and principles. It recognises that:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. [Article 1, Universal Declaration]

The rights set out in the Universal Declaration cover civil and political rights (which protect individuals from government abuse of power) as well as economic, social and cultural rights (the basis for adequate standards of living that will ensure human dignity).

The rights in the Declaration include:


  • the right to life, liberty and personal security

  • freedom from torture and degrading treatment

  • the right to seek and gain protection in other countries from persecution

  • the right to equality before the law

  • the right to a fair trial

  • the right to privacy

  • freedom of belief and religion

  • freedom of opinion

  • freedom of peaceful assembly and association

  • the right to participate in government

  • the right to social security

  • the right to work

  • the right to adequate standards of living

  • the right to education.

In the Declaration the United Nations called on governments and individuals and other organs of society to promote respect for human rights through education and government policies.

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