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Human Rights Day: A Commemorative Observances Legal Research Guide

Executive Branch Documents

Presidential proclamations and executive orders have been used by presidents to rule on substantive issues of law; to administrate the executive branch of government; and to make general announcements to the public. These general announcements, which exhort the public to observe a holiday such as Thanksgiving, honor a particular group, such as African Americans, or hold up a particular ideal, such as Law Day, are usually issued in the form of presidential proclamations.

On December 10, 1949, President Truman issued the first presidential proclamation for Human Rights Day, Presidential Proclamation 2866 External. In this proclamation, President Truman stated that "the attainment of basic rights for men and women everywhere is essential to the peace we are seeking." President Truman designated December 10, 1949 and "December 10 of each succeeding year as United Nations Human Rights Day."

From 1949 to 1957, Presidents Truman and Eisenhower issued proclamations in honor of Human Rights Day. In 1958, President Eisenhower issued the first proclamation for Human Rights Week, Presidential Proclamation No. 3265 External. This proclamation commemorates the 167th signing of the Bill of Rights as well as the 10th anniversary of the proclamation of the UDHR. The president called upon the citizens of the United States to reread and study both of these documents. This proclamation set the week of December 10 to December 17, 1958, as Human Rights Week. From 1958 to 2021, subsequent presidents have variously issued presidential proclamations on Human Rights Day and Week.

Many of the presidential proclamations for the annual observances of Human Rights Week, from 1949 to the present, can be browsed through the American Presidency Project External by selecting the year and clicking on the display button. Presidential messages, statements, and remarks can be searched from the home page of the American Presidency Project External.

Presidential proclamations for these annual observances from 1949 to the present can be found at govinfo's Federal Register page. Beginning with 1996, these proclamations can also be found in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Copies of presidential proclamations which are not available online from any of these sources can be located in print at Federal Depository Libraries.