The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The catalog of rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted without dissent by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948, is scarcely less than the sum of most of the important traditional political and civil rights of national constitutions and legal systems, including equality before the law; protection against arbitrary arrest; the right to a fair trial; freedom from ex post facto criminal laws; the right to own property; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Also enumerated are such economic, social, and cultural rights as the right to work, the right to form and join trade unions, the right to rest and leisure, the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, and the right to education.

The Universal Declaration, it must be noted, is not a treaty. It was meant to proclaim "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" rather than enforceable legal obligations. Nevertheless, partly because of an 18-year delay between its adoption and the completion for signature and ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration has acquired a status juridically more important than originally intended. It has been widely used, even by national courts, as a means of judging compliance with human rights obligations under the United Nations Charter.

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