Site Introduction

  1. Site Introduction
  2. Site Bibliography
  3. Acknowledgements
This web-based project considers the influence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on international and domestic law, politics and affairs over the last half century. It asks how and why international human rights have emerged, survived and even flourished as a shared ideology in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Professor Peter Danchin
Introduction to the Project
The site is designed to be used as a resource in the classroom and in study at Columbia University and beyond, and offers students an innovative way to learn about this fascinating document and the ideas, institutions, and personalities involved in its history and modern day influence.

The site is organized into three levels. The first level is Introductory. The second explores the normative and historical ideas that emerge from the recitals in the Preamble to the Declaration. And the third, and main level, considers each of the articles in the triple “decalogue” of fundamental rights and traces the meaning and history of the concepts embodied in each article; the drafting history and subsequent development of each article in international human rights law; and finally famous cases or contemporary applications that demonstrate the influence of the Declaration in international affairs.

At all three levels, the site employs a range of multimedia features including video footage of interviews with prominent Columbia professors in the field of human rights, and also with experts, practitioners and activists who use the Declaration in their work. It also contains photographs and links to other sites, and links of keywords used in the discussion to four categories of definitions and additional information—(1) “biographies,” (2) “concepts,” (3) “institutions,” and (4) “documents.”

Introduction—Level One

At the Introductory level, you will find three topics covered. First, this introduction to the overall project and the organization of the site. Second, a basic introduction to the Universal Declaration itself. And third, an overview of the history and mechanics of the drafting process of the Declaration.

The Preambles—Level Two

Each of the recitals contains themes and concepts that either antecede, underlie or underpin the Declaration. Using this site, you are able to explore the relevant concepts involved and read a discussion about how they are implicated in the influence and history of the Declaration. The following is an outline of the basic topics raised in each recital.

Recital One—Theory and Sources of Human Rights; “Human Dignity”

Recital Two—The Influence of the Holocaust and FDR’s “Four Freedoms”

Recital Three—Rebellion Against Tyranny and the Rule of Law

Recital Four—International Law and International Relations

Recital Five—The United Nations Charter and Human Rights

Recital Six—Universalization and Internationalization of Human Rights

Recital Seven—Universal Values and Cultural Relativism

Proclamation—Human Rights Education and the Role of Civil Society

The Thirty Articles—Level Three

The remainder of the site contains discussion and analysis of each of the Declaration’s thirty articles. As each article is significant for a variety of historical, cultural and educational reasons, we have organized the discussion under six categories of analysis as follows:

(1) an introduction;

(2) the meaning or definition of the relevant concept(s) in that article;

(3) the history of that concept;

(4) the history of the drafting process that led to that article’s inclusion in the Declaration;

(5) its subsequent development in international human rights law and processes; and finally

(6) famous cases or applications that demonstrate the influence of that article in international law, relations or affairs.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University