Preamble section 2:
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Concepts and Ideas

  1. Nuremberg Trials
  2. Rwanda/Yugoslavia
  3. Four Freedoms (1)
  4. Four Freedoms (2)

Four Freedoms


The Congress, dominated at this time by Republicans and conservative Democrats, refused to respond to FDR’s plea to implement his new Bill of Rights. Nevertheless, in the meantime the Four Freedoms had exerted an influence in two directions. References to “freedom from fear and want” were included in the Atlantic Charter, a declaration of principles that was approved in August 1941 by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. The two leaders also expressed in the Charter their desire to bring about after the war “the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security.”5

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Declaration of January 1, 1942 was signed, or adhered to later, by 47 nations. The parties not only accepted the goals of the Atlantic Charter, but also agreed to a “common program of purposes and principles,” in which they declared that complete victory over their enemies was essential “to defend life, liberty, independence, and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands.”6

Encouraged by these documents and President Roosevelt’s repeated references in his war-time talks to the Four Freedoms and the Second Bill of Rights, officials in both the Department of State and Foreign Offices of the Allied governments started including references to human rights and freedoms in official proposals for the post-war era. At the same time, various individuals and non-governmental organizations started preparing reports and recommendations on the subject, some of which included drafts of a declaration of human rights. Several of their proposals found their way into official documents, including the United Nations Charter, and, after 1945, proved of assistance in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two Covenants. By that time, it was generally accepted, though with some reluctance by a few states, that the task should include not only the traditional civil and political human rights, but also economic and social rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, made sure that this idea would not be neglected.

Professor Louis Henkin
What is the US position in relation to economic and social rights? Is it fair to say that the US is “culturally relativist” in relation to this aspect of the Declaration?
The conviction that economic, social and cultural rights are as integral as civil and political rights as foundations for peace and democracy, can also be seen in recent United Nations efforts, such as the Declaration on the Right of Development in 1986, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna, the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development in 1995 and the Fourth World Conference on Women.


ROSMAITA, Gregory J. (1995), The Four Freedoms at Home and Abroad,, at 3.

SOHN, Louis B., The Human Rights Movement: From Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to the Interdependence of Peace, Development and Human Rights, Edward A. Smith Lecture, Harvard Law School, March 8, 1995, at

For further references on the discussion of social, economic and cultural rights, see Morsink, chapters 4, 5 and 6, especially sections 6.4 and 6.5.


5. 5 U.S. Department of State Bulletin 125 (1941); 9 Manley O. Hudson and Louis B. Sohn, eds., International Legislation 3 (1950), cited in Sohn, Louis B., The Human Rights Movement: From Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to the Interdependence of Peace, Development and Human Rights, Edward A. Smith Lecture, Harvard Law School, March 8, 1995, at
6. 3 U.S. Department of State Bulletin 125 (1941).

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University