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Human Rights: Historical and Conceptual Evolution


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered to be of great historical value. It was officially adopted in 1948 by United Nations General Assembly. The declaration enunciates special fundamental rights of every person being of major interest in the process of circumcision ethics study. The evolution of Human Rights provided the opportunities to evaluate the importance and influential role of the declaration. The rights covered by the declaration are devoted to privacy, freedom from torture and personal security and freedom from various unusual and cruel treatments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is recognized as a standard of achievement for a great number of nations; every organ of the community and every individual taking into account this declaration strive to promote complete respect for these freedoms and rights on the international level securing their effective and universal recognition. The evolution of the human rights has shown its practical value for people’s rights safeguarding.

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Historical Evolution of Human Rights

The values and ideas of human rights refer to ancient religious cultures and beliefs throughout the world. In the period of World War II the Four principle freedoms were adopted:

  • Freedom of assembly;
  • Speech freedom;
  • Freedom from any want;
  • Freedom from possible fear.

The idea of freedom establishment appeared to be the background for the development of fundamental human rights. The basic principle of the declaration lied in the following:

“…to provide universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction at to race, sex, language or religion.” (United Nations Charter, art. p. 56).

The day of declaration adoption was 10 December of 1948 with 48 votes in favor by the General Assembly.

The structure of the Universal Declaration was prepared and introduced by Rene Cassin in its second draft. It should be stressed that structure was under the impact of Code Napoleon containing preamble and basic principles in the introduction. The first and the second articles are considered to be the background blocks covering brotherhood, equality, liberty and dignity (Walker, 2008).

Deepening into the structure of the Declaration it should be stressed that its main body formed four basic columns from the very beginning of declaration development.

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  1. The first part covers the individual’s rights (people’s protection from slavery and complete equal right to life);
  2. The second part provides the identification of individuals’ rights in political and civil society;
  3. The third aspect of the declaration structure deals with political, spiritual and public freedoms;
  4. The forth columns highlights economic, cultural and social rights and their equality among all the human beings. (Williams, 2007)

Critical analysis of the Human Rights Declaration showed that the idea of original human rights was based on the depth of human nature; thus, the fact that everyone is to be respected lied in the background of humanity. It should be noted that roots of Human Rights Declaration focused on some religious aspects ancient beliefs. As a result a set of coordinated formal freedoms and rights was organized and developed on the international level. (Schabas, 1998)

The Effects of Human Rights Declaration Evolution

The governments were aimed at the promotion of declaration making people to secure the effectiveness and universal character of the Declaration. Roosevelt stated that UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) could be considered more as a formal declaration rather than a kind of treaty; Eleanor explained it by the fact that this document would have influenced the world population in the way the Americans are influenced by the US Declaration of Independence. This statement appeared to be correct and it was proved through the years of Declaration existence. The power of this Declaration is considered to be more significant than that of some national constitutions. Since 1948 the UDHR acts as the background for the international treaties organizations, establishment of national laws being aimed at human rights protection of sub national, national and regional characters (Morsink, 1999).

It is important to stress that the Declaration was merely created for the purpose of freedom identification; at the definite moment people happened to require the clarification of such notions as “human rights” and “fundamental freedom”. As a result the Universal Declaration appeared to be the UN constitutive document. According to the views of major international lawyers, the Declaration is the principle part of international law being a significant and powerful tool for providing moral and diplomatic pressure to the governments violating any of the declaration articles.

At the international conference of the United Nations which was devoted to the human rights the declaration was proclaimed as the document that “constitutes an obligation for the members of the international community to all persons”.

The Universal Declaration has appeared to serve the background for two basic human rights covenants:

  • Civil and Political Rights International Covenant;
  • Economic, Cultural and Social Rights International Covenant;

The Declaration principles used to be elaborated in various treaties of international character. The value of the Declaration is considered to be magnificent for the constitutional courts, academics, advocates, governments and just individuals appealing to its basic principles for the purpose of their rights protection.

The significant role of the Declaration and its place in the sphere of human rights protection was internationally recognized worldwide. Thus, famous diplomat and philosopher, Charles Malik recognized this declaration as: “an international document of the first order of importance” (Malik, the Third Committee of the UN Assembly).

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According to the statement of Eleanor Roosevelt being the chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, the universal declaration: “…may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere” (Roosevelt, UN Assembly).

In 1995 the official speech of Pope John Paul II proclaimed the results of the Universal Declaration functioning in the global society calling it as “…one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time” (John Paul II, official speech).

At the conference of 2003 Marcello Spatafora on behalf of European Union stated general position of the declaration in current times: “it placed human rights at the center of the framework of principles and obligations shaping relations with the international community” (Spatafora, EU Conference, 2003).

Thus, the strengths of the declaration appeared to be the principle tool in safeguarding of world human rights.

Weaknesses of the Human Rights Declaration

Despite all the privileges and advantages of the declaration this document happened to experience criticism on the part of Islamic countries. Such states as Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iran managed to disagree with effectiveness and power of the human rights document. It was stated that the set of freedoms failed to cover religious and cultural context of Islamic states. The representatives of Islamic culture criticized the positions of the declaration; it was explained by the fact that the document highlighted Judeo-Christian traditions which cannot be supported by Muslims, only in case of Islamic law trespassing. As a way of alternative the representatives of Islamic culture created the document stating the rights and freedom to a dignified life taking into account Islamic Shari’ah. Such position was taken during the Islamic Conference in 2000 being devoted to critical issues of the Universal Declaration (Nurser, 2005).

The criticism of the human rights declaration touched the aspect of medial care. According to the Article 25, the medial care should be free; the representatives of conservatism and libertarians never supported this position. Thus, Andrew Bissell stated as to the article: “Health Care doesn’t simply grow on trees; …No one will want to enter the medical profession when the reward for years of careful schooling and study is not fair remuneration…” (Bissell, 2005).

The next critical issue of the declaration effects sticks to the aspect of education. According to the Article 26, the education is to be compulsory for everyone. According to the philosophical study this position in the declaration provided violation aimed at human right to follow personal interests. Thus, John Holt stated that: “A person’s freedom of learning is a part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech.” (Holt, Escape from Childhood).

It should be noted that the word “compulsory” can be observed in the declaration only once being devoted to the education issue.

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Current Position of the Human Rights Declaration

2008 is considered to be a significant year for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It should be stated that this year it is celebrating its 60th birthday. This day is important due to its honor to the human rights established many years ago.

On this Human Rights Day, it is my hope that we will act on our collective responsibility to uphold the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration” (Ban Ki-moon, 2008).

On the day of holiday celebration the role of the human rights introduction was deeply analyzed. It was stated that the Declaration made only a slight print on contemporary life. The increased level of inequality and poverty are the main grounds to consider it in such a way. Some critics stated that proclamation of the human rights is only a noise being completely empty. The main question asked was devoted to the function of the human rights. What are they for? Modern world experiences race discrimination in some countries; the selfishness of rich people and class inequality contradict the positions of the declaration. The time of economic despair and political instability are to be avoided in accordance with the human rights issues (Gearty, 2008).

The analysis of the human rights position in modern world has shown that declaration issues adopted in 1948 are only a slight shadow in current times. Historical evolution of the UDHR influenced its position in the global society of the world and its perception. Steps and principles of the declaration are based on human morality and mentality. Beliefs and freedoms adopted 60 years ago are considered to be a significant step for the population of that time, but nowadays the declaration is just a shadow of the past (Human Rights Day. Dignity and Justice for All of Us, 2008).


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights appeared to be a fundamental document for the world population. It covered all aspects of social, economical and political life of human beings highlighting the real sense of the words “freedom” and “rights”. Due to the declaration people managed to feel their opportunities and rights in the life. Taking into account the way passed by the human rights document it is important to stress that it underwent certain evolution in its perception by the population.

Nevertheless the UDHR is considered to be a significant step in the history of world civilization having brought major changes to all the nations and states.


Gearty, Conor. 2008. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the next sixty years. Open Democracy. NY.

Human Rights Day. Dignity and Justice for All of Us. 2008. Web.

Morsink, Johannes. 1999. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting and Intent. Philadelphia Press.

Nurser, John. 2005. For all People and all Nations. Christian Churches and Human Rights. Geneva Publication.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. N.d. Address to the United Nations General Assembly

Schabas, William. 1998. Canada and the Adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. McGill Law Journal.

The United Nations and Human Rights. 2006. Department of Public Information, United Nations, New York.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Walker, John. 2008. The UNHR. Preamble. The General Assembly. 

Williams, Paul. 2007. The International Bill of Human Rights. Edited by Jimmy Carter. HR Book Edition.

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