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  • Made Walter

The main characters of the change from the Declaration of the Rights of Man to the Declaration of Hu

The main characters of the change from the Declaration of the Rights of Man to the Declaration of Human Rights.

By Made Walter

On December 10, 1948, in the middle of the cold war, the UN approved the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The date is not casual, after the atrocities of the Holocaust, the world was looking for answers to limit human barbarism and legitimize values ​​represented by the countries at that time.

The UN's " Universal Declaration of Human Rights" is not the granting of rights itself, but rather the unification of a large part of the Western world to assume the commitment to fulfill and legitimize them. The origins of the values ​​that are expressed in the declaration can be found in different sources, and of course also in Jewish sources such as the Torah. After more than 70 years we seem to be far from a world where human rights are respected and we are witnessing a reality where the powerful prevail over the weak and interpret and redefine human rights, which never had a concrete definition and were always open to interpretation. We cannot fail to mention the criticizable role of the "UN" as representative of said declaration, which even in its beginnings and to this day continues to be a body governed by interests that often exceed elemental values.

The process of drafting the declaration in 1948 was not easy, there were political negotiations to include, or not, certain matters, as well as for the choice of words used. Some rights are expressed positively and others such as the refusal to undergo certain practices are expressed negatively. The use of the word man or human being was also part of intense debates.

This last issue was brought forward by the women who made up the commission and who played a fundamental role in a world where the place of women, although it was beginning to make its way, did not yet have legitimacy or equality (just like nowadays).

Eight women participated in writing the declaration among all the men. Material taken from the UN website:


First Lady of the United States of America between 1933 and 1945, she was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1946 by the President of the United States Harry S. Truman. She was the first Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and played a key role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a time of growing tensions between East and West, Eleanor Roosevelt used her enormous prestige and credibility with the two superpowers to steer the drafting process to a successful conclusion. In 1968, she was posthumously awarded the United Nations Prize in the Sphere of Human Rights.


Between 1947 and 1948, there was only one other female delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission: Hansa Mehta, an Indian woman, a staunch defender of women's rights both in India and abroad. She is credited with changing the phrase from "All men are born free and equal" to "All human beings are born free and equal" in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Minerva Bernardino, a diplomat and feminist leader from the Dominican Republic, was instrumental in the deliberations on the inclusion of “equal rights for men and women” in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, together with other Latin Americans (the Brazilian Bertha Lutz and the Uruguayan Isabel de Vidal), she played an essential role in defending the inclusion of women's rights and sexual non-discrimination in the United Nations Charter, which in 1945 became the first international agreement to recognize the equal rights of men and women.


Begum Shaista Ikramullah of Pakistan, as delegate to the Third Committee of the General Assembly (the Commission for Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs), spent 81 meetings in 1948, discussing the draft for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and advocated highlighting freedom, equality and free choice in the Declaration. Likewise, she promoted the incorporation of article 16, on equal rights in marriage, since she considered it to be a way to combat child and forced marriage.


The Danish Bodil Begtrup, President of the Sub-Commission on the Legal and Social Status of Women in 1946 and, later, in 1947, of the Commission on the Legal and Social Status of Women, stood up for the fact that the Universal Declaration should refer to right holders as “all” or “every person”, instead of using the formula “all men”. In addition, she proposed the inclusion of minority rights in article 26, on the right to education, but her ideas were too controversial for the time. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not make any explicit mention of the rights of minorities, although it guarantees equal rights for all people.


The French Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux, as President of the Commission on the Legal and Social Status of Women in 1948, successfully defended the inclusion of a statement of sexual non-discrimination in article 2. Thus, the final text of the article in question reads as follows: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.


Evdokia Uralova of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was the Rapporteur of the Commission on the Status of Women to the Commission on Human Rights in 1947. She strongly advocated equal pay for women. Thanks to her, Article 23 reads as follows: "Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work." In addition, together with Fryderyka Kalinowska, from Poland, and Elizavieta Popova, from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, she highlighted the rights of people living in Non-Self-Governing Territories (Article 2).


Lakshmi Menon, Indian delegate to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in 1948, strongly advocated the repetition of sexual non-discrimination throughout the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the statement of “the equality of rights of men and women” in the preamble. Furthermore, she openly defended the "universality" of human rights and firmly opposed the concept of "colonial relativism", which sought to deny human rights to people living in countries subjected to colonial rule. She argued that if women and individuals under colonial rule were not expressly mentioned in the Universal Declaration, they would not be considered represented in the term “every person”.

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