Preamble section 4:
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,


  1. International Law and Human Rights (1)
  2. International Law and Human Rights (2)
  3. Antecedents
  4. Influence of the Universal Declaration on International Human Rights Law (1)
  5. Influence of the Universal Declaration on International Human Rights Law (2)
  6. Compliance with International Human Rights Obligations

Influence of the Universal Declaration on International Human Rights Law

While the Charter gave birth to the Declaration, the Declaration in turn gave birth to these two covenants and a host of other international and regional instruments creating the means by which to ensure the legal implementation of human rights standards. The fact that the Declaration is not intertwined with any piece of this machinery of implementation gave it, from the start, an independent moral status in world affairs and law. More than fifty years after its adoption it now is the moral backbone and the source of inspiration of a whole new branch of international law. From a time when there were virtually no international instruments concerned with the realization of human rights, the post World War II era has seen the evolution of around two hundred assorted declarations, conventions, protocols, treaties, charters, and agreements, all dealing with the realization of human rights in the world. Of these postwar instruments no fewer of sixty-five mention in their prefaces or preambles the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a source of authority and inspiration. (Morsink, 19-20)

Moreover, the Universal Declaration has itself acquired over time legal character by absorption into that process by which the acts ("practice") and opinions ("opinio juris") of states are transmuted into binding customary international law. This was one of the legal bases upon which apartheid was condemned by states during the 1970's. The suggestion then was that the Charter, the Universal Declaration, repeated resolutions of international bodies, and the nearly unanimous opinion and practice of states together had combined to make customary law prohibiting egregious violations, such as apartheid. Even nations fearful of law-making by uncertain procedures undercutting the requirement of unanimity were hard-pressed to resist such arguments when applied to racism. And African states eager to make such law against racism were compelled to consider that it might apply also to other egregious violations which no one dared justify--slavery, genocide, even torture, perhaps other forms of repression.

A famous example that demonstrates how the status of the Universal Declaration as customary international law has influenced the protection of human rights in contemporary times is the Filártiga litigation.

See also the discussion in Preamble Clause 6 on the effect of the Universal Declaration in universalizing and internationalizing human rights.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University