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

Universality and the UNESCO study

At the time of the drafting of the Universal Declaration, UNESCO conducted an investigation, entirely independently of the Human Rights Commission, aimed at tracing the philosophical foundations of human rights. By consulting the opinions of philosophers, jurists and social scientists worldwide, UNESCO believed that they had created a report that would be relevant to the ongoing attempts to define universal "Human Rights." The report was thus forwarded by UNESCO to the Commission in the hope that it "would help to clarify [the commission's] discussion and to explore the ground for a constructive argument."

If UNESCO believed that the Human Rights Commission would be thankful for the organization's contribution on the question of human rights, they were badly mistaken. Instead, the delegates voted to have the circulation of the report limited to the Human Rights Commission. It is note entirely clear why the Human Rights Commission adopted such a negative stance towards the UNESCO report. One possible answer is that the UNESCO study documented a plethora of interpretations and sources, both religious and secular, regarding the possible foundations and sources of the idea of human rights, and the Commission may have wanted to avoid these philosophical controversies in their attempts to reach consensus on a practical document. As Henkin has noted:

"International human rights are not the work of philosophers, but of politicians and citizens, and philosophers have only begun to try build conceptual justifications for them. The international expressions of rights themselves claim no philosophical foundation, nor do they reflect any clear philosophical assumptions; they articulate no particular moral principles or any single, comprehensive theory of the relation of the individual to society. That there are "fundamental human rights" was a declared article of faith, "reaffirmed' by "the peoples of the United Nations" in the United Nations Charter. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, striving for a pronouncement that would appeal to diverse political systems governing diverse peoples, built on that faith and shunned philosophical exploration."4

Accordingly, it is difficult to assess the extent of the influence that the UNESCO study had on the Drafting process.

See further Tore Lindholm, "Article 1: A New Beginning" in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Commentary at 31-57.


4. Louis Henkin, The Age of Rights at 6.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University