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

The law took root and spread. When Raphael Lemkin created the term "genocide" and developed a convention to outlaw it, governments readily adhered, wishing to avoid the slightest suspicion that they condoned Hitler's monstrosities, or that they wished to remain free to emulate him; in fact, too, governments did not consider that eschewing genocide would limit their freedom to govern in any way. The UN Charter's general exhortations, which few originally saw as having any normative significance, were converted into the Universal Declaration. Nations felt free to do so since it was generally considered as having no binding legal character. Although some governments articulated misgivings (and others doubtless had, but suppressed, them) a long slow process began to convert the Declaration into binding international law.

Morsink notes the irony of history when he mentions that what worried many of the delegations - that the Declaration was not attached to or accompanied by a legally binding covenant - has proved to be a very beneficial feature of the document, one that has helped rather than hindered the process of implementation. (Morsink, 19) When the Third General Assembly adopted the Declaration, it also passed a resolution calling for speedy completion of the Covenant, which the Commission had been unable to finish. In the course of these further discussions, and as a result of heightened Cold War tensions, the Commission decided to split the single covenant into two. The result was that in 1966 two international covenants were opened for signature, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These came into force when enough signatures had been collected from states, in 1976, almost 30 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration. Together these documents today comprise the International Bill of Human Rights.

Professor Louis Henkin
To what extent did the Declaration signal a new orientation in international law away from State values toward human values and how has it affected the ongoing debate between the "realists" and the "liberal internationalists"?
One of the reasons that it took so long to complete the process of converting the Universal Declaration into binding international law was that every new nation that emerged increased the number of law-makers and helped change the political complexion of the system, complicating and slowing the process. Also, differences soon emerged between those committed to Western libertarianism and limited government, and the growing appeal of the socialist commitment to activist-interventionist government and economic and social development. The West insisted that the latter could not imply individual rights with concomitant state obligations, but only societal aspirations, and surely could not be enforced as international law. The result was the bifurcation into two covenants, the one on civil and political rights in the Western tradition, and the one on economic and social rights as in the welfare state or socialism. States that had been prepared to support articulation of general principles in a universal declaration, wished legal obligations to be more precise and more limited. Thus, some rights articulated in the UDHR did not survive the law-making process completed years later in a transformed political system, notably the right to property (Henkin notes that the omission of a right to property reflected largely the disagreement over compensation for expropriation of alien properties, not any denial of a human right to property in other contexts: see Article 17). Some rights were added or expanded. Despite objection by Western states that self-determination was at most a right of "peoples" not of individual human beings, it was placed at the head of both emerging covenants. Over similar objections the covenants included national sovereignty over resources and other "economic self-determination."

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University