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Human Rights Day: A Commemorative Observances Legal Research Guide

History and Overview

Human Rights Day originated in 1950 when the United Nations General Assembly invited all nations to observe December 10 as Human Rights Day through resolution 423(V) [PDF] External.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drafted as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations” and was the first universal statement that all human beings have certain inherent rights that are inalienable. Prior to its adoption, human rights had been expressed in other international and domestic instruments, such as the Charter of the United Nations External and the United States Bill of Rights, but there was no dedicated statement about human rights at the international level.

The UDHR consists of a preamble and thirty articles covering such human rights as freedom of expression, assembly, movement, and religion. It sets out the basic principle of equality and non-discrimination in terms of the enjoyment of human rights, and affirms that everyone shall be free from slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest or detention. Article 1 describes the philosophy on which the UDHR is based. It reads:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Although it is not a binding document, the UDHR can be seen as contributing to the understanding, implementation, and development of international human rights law. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states [PDF] External that the UDHR “has set the direction for all subsequent work in the field of human rights and has provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments designed to protect the rights and freedoms which it proclaims.” There have been a number of international covenants on different aspects of human rights since the adoption of the UDHR. While not all governments have become parties to all of these treaties, all United Nations (UN) member countries have accepted the UDHR. The UDHR has also inspired some of the wording of constitutions of different countries around the world.

The UDHR has now been translated External into 530 languages External and dialects and holds the Guinness World Record External as being the most translated document in the world.

The 70th anniversary of the UDHR was celebrated on Human Rights Day 2018 External. In honor of this anniversary, the UN launched the campaign "Stand Up For Human Rights" External. Past observances External have had a range of themes, including human rights education, torture, and fighting poverty. The UN holds various events and meetings on Human Rights Day and has established the Human Rights Prize External to recognize “outstanding achievements in the field of human rights.” The day is also observed by various government and non-government organizations through statements, events, and publications, including the United States where presidents have issued proclamations for Human Rights Day for more than 60 years. The 2021 Human Rights Day External theme "All Human, All Equal" relates to article 1 of the UDHR. It is meant to further the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda External and the Shared Framework on Leaving No One Behind [PDF] External.

Resources Referenced