Universal Declaration of Human Rights

60yrsudhrlogoDecember 10 marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This is an historic and foundational document. It is secular but receives extremely wide support from different political, religious and non-religious trends. It arose in part as a reaction to the horrors and violence of the Second World war –  particularly the Holocaust. But it has also been an inspiration for moral and social progress throughout the world – intermittent and unreliable as that has been.

AC Grayling is currently blogging in the Guardian on the UDHR – one article a day until December 10 (see AC Graylings articles on the UDHR). As always, his comments are worth reading.

The UDHR contains articles on slavery, torture, legal rights, privacy, freedom of movement, family, property, political activity, education, work, and social security.

The first three articles are fundamental:

Article 1: 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.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.

Freedom of expression

I think articles 18, 19 and 20 are also vital as they deal with freedom of belief and expression. When these freedoms are violated all other human rights are at risk because they cannot be defended.

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Go to hell

Internationally, freedom of expression is under attack today. Besides the usual offenders we now have a concerted attack under the guise of  “preventing defamation of religion.” This has come particularly from the Organisation of  the Islamic Conference (OIC) and has produced real distortions in the work of the UN Human Rights Council (see Attacks on freedom of expression go international). Activity has also concentrated on  resolutions in the UN General Assembly

Saudi King Abdullah has recently played a leading role in this and has tied it to an “interfaith dialogue” (see Interfaith dialogue and human rights and Interfaith dialogue to fight against human rights). The hypocrisy of this “interfaith dialogue’ is demonstrated by the fact that a recent meeting was held in Madrid – such meeting being impossible in Saudi Arabia because of restrictions on non-Islamic religions! Nevertheless, he managed to organise a special meeting of at the UN in New York on religion (see Critics Say U.N. ‘Culture of Peace’ Meeting Hides Culture of Oppression).

Some Christian and Jewish groups  participated in this “interfaith dialogue” – presumably because they also would like to see limitations placed on freedom of expression when it comes to criticism of religion.

Demonstration, riots, attacks on embassies and death threats are also used to attack freedom of expression. Salmon Rushdie (author of The Satanic Verses), Ayan Hirsi Ali (author of  Infidel) and others have been the victims of death threats by fatwa. Currently there is pressure to prevent publication of the book The Jewel of Medina.

A particularly cowardly result of such pressure has been the self censorships by book publishers and newspapers in Europe and the USA.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It underpins the fight to establish and protect all other human rights. It must be defended against these attacks.

See also: AC Graylings Articles on the UDHR

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11 responses to “Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  1. Pingback: Rachel’s Musings » Happy Birthday Human Rights Declaration

  2. Freedom of expression is a tough one, and maybe could have had a bit more detail in it.
    The two examples that come to mind are:

    1. There is a weird guy (maybe more than one) who travels the world expounding on his idea that the Jewish Holocaust never took place. Many countries have banned him. I think his rights have been severely abrogated. As far as I know he is not advocating violence or anything dangerous.

    2. In most countries it is an offence to use “foul” language in a public place. I think this is fair enough because it is offensive to many people. But then if “offense” is the problem, and not some wider issue, then certain public statements will be offensive to certain migrants (for example). How do we solve this – by a survey where a simple majority decides what is offensive?


  3. Ross said…”There is a weird guy (maybe more than one) who travels the world expounding on his idea that the Jewish Holocaust never took place.”

    Ross, it’s called Holocaust denialism.
    And yes, there’s quite a few more that one.



  4. 2:

    You are probably thinking of David Irving. While you have a point, I suspect there may be “more to it”, which might include that some claim that he promotes racism, anti-semitism and Neo-Nazism, too. I don’t really know: I don’t follow his story. He certainly sounds an “interesting” character whatever is true.


  5. The Holocaust deniers do raise an interesting question, though. In some countries (eg. Austria, I think, for example) holocaust denial is a crime. I think Irving actually did some time in Austria. And, of course it has been a reason to deny him visa to some countries.

    Now, the Islamists (IOC) are using this as an argument. “If your can have Holocaust denial as a crime we can have criticism of Islam (defamation of religion) as a crime.” I think there is a point there. The best antiseptic to the hateful ideas behind holocaust denial (similarly evolution denial) is sunlight – exposure.

    Really, all such silly ideas should be exposed for what they are – legal restrictions prevent this.

    As far as “offence” is concerned. I don’t think anyone has the right to be protected against offence because of an idea. This is particularly so of religion. Every such idea should be able to withstand the test of open discussion.


  6. Pingback: Journey through a Burning Mind » Universal Declaration of Human Rights -Threatened 60 Years Later

  7. I agree with your comment, Ken, about nobody having the right to be protected from offence because of an idea. We’d go nowhere very quickly if that one was reality. I remember Orac blogging about this a while ago (just can’t find the link) – he’s very strong against Holocaust denial but equally strongly defended Irving’s right to speak his beliefs.


  8. To ask to be protected “from offence” is in many ways asking to block others’ freedom of expression.

    Your words (Alison) reminded me of a group of people in the USA claiming that the first amendment protected them from being criticised by others, when in practice (as I understand it) it gives them the right to criticise others and, in turn, be criticised. (Among other things, this amendment covers a fair bit of ground.) You need to preserve the right to freedom of speech, as that allows you to criticise others, including your own government. After all, it’s a pretty dodgy government that doesn’t allow itself to be criticised…!

    I think I remember that post of Orac’s, too.

    I’d need to think this through and I haven’t time, but I suspect there is a line to be drawn between criticising someone’s opinion or beliefs, as opposed to persecuting the person for having the same opinions or beliefs. I suspect it may come down to how they are using their opinions or beliefs (e.g. in a way that doesn’t harm others, or vice versa).


  9. According to Ken,

    When children are denied access to science, to an understanding of reality, that is immoral. It’s a form of child abuse.


    So teaching your children six day creationism is a form of child abuse. How does this line up with the Freedom of expression (Article 18) in the UDHR? It would be a contradiction since child abuse should be a crime. So either this kind of instruction is not child abuse or it is, and should be, banned in the UDHR. Thus we see the practical impossibility of following such universal prescriptions.


  10. I suspect there is a line to be drawn between criticising someone’s opinion or beliefs, as opposed to persecuting the person for having the same opinions or beliefs.

    I think that was pretty much what Orac was saying, & I think it would be my call as well.

    Sort of related – Tui (beer company, for non-Kiwis) had one of it’s ‘yeah right’ billboards up, saying something along the lines of ‘Putting Christ back into Christmas – yeah, right’. Sufficient folks declared themselves offended & Tui took the signs down. And yet, I thought that in a way (whether Tui intended this or not), the sign was making a valid commentary. Christmas has become so overwhelmingly commercialised, with all these constant exhortations to buy, buy, buy, & for many it’s moved a long, long way from the original intent of the Christian holy day. It’s a strange old world where a beer company gets it right & gets criticised for doing so…


  11. [off-topic…]


    Hi Alison 🙂

    I remember the commentary about that billboard. I can see how some might read it, but some the negative responses struck me as a case of letting blood rush to their heads rather than read it for what it was actually saying. By way of comparison, some of billboards outside the more “outgoing” evangelistic churches could be read as offensive if you really choose to read them that way.

    I can’t see non-Christians “putting Christ back into Christmas” and I get tired of the commercialism and the pressure of present buying too. Its good up to the point of thinking of others, who they are and what they’d like, but it gets too much when the “keep up with the Joneses” thing, etc., gets added to it. At least for “the adults”, I would rather it be a day of getting together to catch up with family.


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