UDHR Introduction - Preamble Clauses 6-8

  1. Introduction
  2. Preamble Sections 1-5
  3. Preamble Sections 6-8
  4. The Articles

The sixth recital builds directly on the one that precedes it and notes that all UN Member States then signing the Universal Declaration had already “pledged themselves” to promote “universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The question was how this was to be achieved, and two indications are suggested in the recital. First, the most effective means by which states may fulfil their obligations is to entrench human rights standards into national constitutions and legislation to ensure that individuals are able to assert claims before appropriate bodies (whether judicial or administrative) in order to secure the legal protection of their human rights. This is a process that Professor Henkin has termed the “universalizing” of human rights. Second, the Declaration has prompted the creation of numerous international human rights instruments and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that have an impact on national laws, practices and constitutions: this is a process that Henkin has termed the “internationalizing” of human rights. Both of these processes are explored in this section, and their impact assessed on the transitions that have occurred since the end of the cold war in Eastern and Central Europe, and in post-apartheid South Africa. In addition, the stance of the United States towards international human rights is assessed and the issue of economic, social and cultural rights considered.

The seventh recital forms a bridge between the other six recitals and the operative paragraph that follows. In order for the purposes of the Universal Declaration to be effective, the peoples of the world must have a “common understanding” of the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration. But that common understanding will not materialize unless the Declaration is used worldwide at all levels and in all sectors of society. The discussion in this section thus considers two general issues. First, the inclusiveness of the drafting process of the Declaration. Was each country involved and given a voice? Did the rights in the Declaration emerge from a genuine consensus among all nations and cultures? Second, the old debate between universal values and cultural relativism is explored. A common understanding of the rights and freedoms in the Universal Declaration is challenged by several scholars and world leaders. How truly “universal” is the Universal Declaration and how persuasive are the arguments of cultural relativists who challenge the Declaration’s claim to universality? A wealth of literature has been produced on this question with scholars from anthropology, law, political science, area studies, religion and philosophy all examining different aspects of this complex relationship. In the discussion, the views of two contemporary human rights thinkers are presented. First, the argument on cultural relativism and universal values in Jack Donnelly’s book, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice is presented. Second, Amartya Sen’s response to the so-called “Asian values” objection as voiced in the Bangkok Declaration of 1993 is outlined.

Finally, the eighth recital or Proclamation considers how “every individual and every organ of [every] society” is to employ the Decalaration as an educational tool in the worldwide movement for observance and implementation of human rights. The section begins by noting that the Declaration was not intended to be a legally binding document and its influence has in many respects been most felt in the area of human rights education in universities and schools around the world, and in the work of NGOs and other civil society actors. More recently, with the advent of the internet and new technolgies, these forms of mobilization and activism—the creation of transnational networks of international and domestic human rights actors—has become a feature of international affairs and life, and the Declaration has played a large role in these developments, as explained by Paul Martin in this section.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University