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 Charles Habib Malik from Lebanon.
Charles Habib Malik represented Lebanon as delegations from 50 countries gathered in San Francisco in 1945 to draw up the UN Charter. As rapporteur of the Drafting Committee, Malik fought for the international protection of human rights to be included in international law. Malik subsequently succeeded Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
For Malik, it was crucial that the Declaration should stress the importance of freedom of religion. He endeavoured in particular to guarantee the right of every individual not to hold any religious beliefs, and the right to change religion or belief. Malik played an important role in the drafting of Article 18, guaranteeing the right of every individual to change religion or belief.
With his background as a philosopher, Malik also had a particular role to play in the drafting of Article 1. He never gave up trying to get the Drafting Committee to discuss the complex nature of humans and their search for the truth. His persistence eventually bore fruit, as Article 1 ultimately contained the classic words:
“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.”
To begin with, not everyone on the Drafting Committee was agreed that words such as ‘reason’ and ‘conscience’ should be included in the Article, but Malik insisted and got his way. He believed that moral reflections and rational considerations made it possible for people to carry out acts of solidarity.
“The peace which man believes in and will spontaneously rise up to defend, is only that which is grounded in his ultimate rights and freedoms, and in the reality of justice,” said Charles Habib Malik.
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.