Reports by Alex Cosgrave
Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear were the four essential human freedoms which American President Franklin D Roosevelt outlined in his "State of the Union" message in 1941.
These freedoms and Roosevelt's vision were the beginning of a process which was to lead to the formal adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.
Sir Winston Churchill was the next world leader to take up the theme and later in 1941 he presented Roosevelt with a draft declaration which contained "certain broad principles" which Churchill said "would guide our policies along the same road". Churchill's declaration was not included in the Atlantic charter of that year which resulted from the first wartime conference between the two leaders but the Charter did refer to the "assurance that all men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want".
On January 1, 1942, 26 nations including the Soviet Union, America and Britain subscribed to the Atlantic Charter. This Declaration of Nations as it was to be called, became the first major international document to speak of "human rights and justice".
It was also during the war that the idea of forming an international peace and security organisation, more effective than the existing League of Nations, was conceived.
This new organisation — the United Nations — was finally agreed in 1944 and its Charter signed in 1945 reaffirmed "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small".
But these 'fundamental human rights' had not yet been specified and there was no machinery for their implementation. So in 1946 the United Nations established a Commission on Human Rights.
The task of the Commission, chaired by President Roosevelt's wife Eleanor, was to draft a Bill of Rights. The Bill was to have two parts, a Declaration of principles and a Covenant containing legally binding instruments.
The final text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was accepted in the form of a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Later two covenants on Human Rights came into being, the International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
The Declaration was from the first primarily a westrn concept and the outcome of western democratic ideas. The process began with Roosevelt at a time when aggressive totalitarianism was on the rise in the world. The Declaration was negotiated at a time when the cold war had just begun.
The Soviet Union abstained in the voting on the Declaration which they felt did not encompass the Soviet view of human rights, namely that they are only possible in a socialist context.
On the one hand therefore the Declaration was conceived as a weapon to be used against totalitarian regimes and on the other hand the Soviet Union insisted that human rights cannot be used in opposition to the governmental system and so the government has to grant them to its citizens.
The western concept of human rights began, and still continues, as an individualistic one, the Soviet concept as rights relating to the struggle of the masses.
Economic and social rights, provisions against colonialism, social discrimination, fascist propaganda, social and religious emnity were all provisions which the Soviety Union sought to incorporate in the Declaration of Human Rights.