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).