Photo: UN Photo
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 Peng Chun Chang from China.
As vice-chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Peng Chun Chang argued for a philosophical standpoint in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that it should be religiously neutral and cover civil, economic and social rights.
After brief diplomatic service in Turkey and Chile, Chang was asked to represent China at the UN. Following the first meeting of the General Assembly in London in 1946, he was included on the Drafting Committee to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
With his background as a playwright, it was important for Peng Chun Chang to give space to for cultural issues in the Declaration. His great passion for music and art was reflected in the articles dealing in particular with culture, art and science. Chang’s early studies of philosophy, the political situation in China and his many meetings with people from around the world also had an impact on the wording. Chang was responsible for the Declaration’s aspirations to religious neutrality and universality.
When working on the Declaration, Chang always endeavoured to make sure it was easy to understand.
“A declaration of human rights should be brief and readily understandable by all. It should be a document for all men everywhere, not merely for lawyers and scholars.”
For Chang, the right to education was especially important, in so small measure because of his own personal experiences. As a child, his own father had not passed the imperial examination and came to regret this as an adult. In the Declaration, Chang made it clear that everyone’s right to education should also include adult education:
“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”
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.