The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a milestone in human history. It was signed in Paris on 10 December 1948 – 70 years ago.
To mark the 70th anniversary, we want to honour some of the heroes who held the pen.
The Declaration was drafted by diplomats of different religious, cultural and legal backgrounds from all regions of the world. One of the them was William Hodgson from Australia.
Like so many of his countrymen, young Australian lieutenant William Hodgson fell to enemy gunfire on the hills of Gallipoli in 1915. Presumed dead, Hodgson survived to read his own obituary, and later went on to become one of the most influential Australians of the 20th century.
Although his wounds left him with a lifelong limp which ruled him out of continued active service, Hodgson wasn’t deterred from serving his country. On the contrary, he combined working with military intelligence at Army HQ with night-time studies, which led to a law degree at the University of Melbourne in 1929.
Switching from military to public service, Hodgson joined the Department for External Affairs in 1934, where he quickly made a name for himself. Within a few years, he was appointed High Commissioner to Canada, Ambassador to France, and was part of the Australian delegation to the first General Assembly to the United Nations. In fact, Hodgson was credited with helping to create the fundamental designs of the UN itself.
But it was in 1946, as the UN established its Commission on human rights, that William Hodgson would create what is perhaps his greatest legacy. As one of nine representatives from around the world, he drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
During the tough negotiations in the Commission, Hodgson pushed for ways to enforce adherence to the rights laid down in the document. He wanted an international tribunal where individuals could file a complaint or, as an alternative, an amendment to the UN Charter to make the declaration legally enforceable on nations.
Although these mechanisms never materialised in the final product, perhaps it was Hodgson’s soldierly, straight-forward attitude (described by another delegate as ‘peppery and aggressive, with a blustering and provocative approach’) that made the Declaration of Human Rights what it is today. And for that, we are thankful.
Today, 70 years after the Declaration was signed, demanding justice and equal rights is still one of the UN’s central tasks.
Respect for human rights has increased since 1948, but today democracy and human rights are being challenged around the world. This requires their defenders to make their voices heard.
Sweden will always stand up for human rights.