On Human Rights Day, Twenty Seconds on the UDHR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and NZ’s role in the Declaration

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948

Human Rights Day is observed by the international community every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While Eleanor Roosevelt is rightly lauded for her leadership, New Zealand played a key role in ensuring that economic, social and cultural rights received due attention in the UDHR alongside civil and political rights:

“Experience in New Zealand has taught us that the assertion of the right of personal freedom is incomplete unless it is related to the social and economic rights of the common man. There can be no difference of opinion as to the tyranny of privation and want. There is no dictator more terrible than hunger.” (Delegation member, Dr Colin Aikman, on behalf of New Zealand, UN, 1948).

When the General Assembly adopted the Declaration, with 48 states in favour and eight abstentions, it was proclaimed as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, towards which individuals and societies should “strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance”. The Declaration with its broad range of political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights. Today the general consent of all United Nations Member States on the basic Human Rights laid down in the Declaration makes it even stronger and emphasises the relevance of Human Rights in our daily lives.