Preamble section 7:
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Drafting History

  1. The Inclusiveness of the Drafting Process
  2. The Problem of the Colonies
  3. Universality and the UNESCO study

The Inclusiveness of the Drafting Process

As discussed in the general introduction to the drafting history of the Declaration, there have been several accounts of the drafting process. Some scholars, like Susan Waltz, stress that during the drafting process small states played a significant role. Other scholars, like Johannes Morsink, are rather skeptical of that claim, especially when looking at the issue from the perspective of the colonies. Morsink does recognize, however, that there was considerable diversity among the participating states: 37 of the member nations stood in the Judeo- Christian tradition, 11 in the Islamic, 6 in the Marxist and 4 in the Buddhist tradition. Thus, the almost unanimous vote in favor of the final text of the Declaration (there were eight abstentions) suggests that a high degree of consensus was achieved both between large and small states and across a wide array of cultures, traditions and beliefs. (Morsink, 21)

The Role of Small States

Susan Waltz has suggested that Third World participants played four principal roles during the drafting of the Universal Declaration.1 In proposing these roles, Waltz emphasizes that she makes no claim to present the main version of the story, much less the "true" version of events that unfolded from 1946 through the early 1950s. Rather, she seeks to represent one accurate version of events that transpired--a version that, in her view, is important. (Waltz, 49)

The four principal roles Third World participants played during the drafting process were first as witnesses, second as active participants, third in providing leadership and fourth in advocating agendas of their own. In the result, at least five particular issues were included in the Declaration due to the advocacy of smaller states, often going against the wishes of the main powers. The most significant contribution was the inclusion of socio-economic rights in the Declaration. It was not only the Soviet bloc that defended the "new rights," but also delegates from Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. The inclusion of clothing in Article 25, for example, is a direct result of comments and arguments put forward by the Philippine and Chinese participants in the Commission's work. In addition, the Saudi delegate and Syrian delegation had an impact on the debates.

The second issue was women's rights. Most prominent in this regard were Hansa Mehta (India), Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic), Shaista Ikramullah (Pakistan), and Lakhsmi Menon (India), along with Bodil Begtrup (Denmark). Hansa Mehta appears to have irritated Humphrey, who described her as a "determined woman." During the Commission hearings, she objected to Humphrey's initial, gendered phrase that "all man are created equal."

Third, many of the small states were very sensitive to discrimination of any kind. Although the Soviet bloc used the question of discrimination to badger the US delegation, the practice of discrimination was hardly limited to the treatment of racial minorities in the United States. For example it was China that proposed inserting reference to racial equality in the Dumbarton Oaks documents and it was the South Asian delegates who expressed deep concerns about discriminatory practices, particularly in South Africa.

Fourth, as a general point, many of the small states were committed to carving out a role for themselves as full partners in the international system. To this end, the Cuban delegation continuously argued in third Committee debates that articles of the draft Declaration should be recast to conform with the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The American Declaration had been proclaimed in Bogota by the Organization of American States ("OAS") just five months before the UN General Assembly committee began its formal consideration of the draft Universal Declaration. Their insistence on this careful consideration of the text no doubt tried the patience of many delegates, but it also had the effect of ensuring that every article of the Universal Declaration was scrutinized by the UN General Assembly Third Committee.

Finally, many small state delegations sought an end to colonial rule. Just as the great powers deployed human rights as a rhetorical weapon in the Cold War, many small states saw and seized the opportunity to use the human rights project to advance the cause of independence and self-determination.


1. Susan Waltz, "Universalizing Human Rights: The Role of Small States in the Construction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" 23 Human Rights Quarterly 43-72 (2001).

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University