The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) represents the first global codification of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. In 1947, the newly established United Nations, largely in response to the atrocities of World War II, set up a dedicated Human Rights Commission chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962). After 18 months’ deliberation the Commission drafted the UDHR, which was adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. British representatives were frustrated that it had moral but no legal obligation. It was not until 1976 that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force, giving a legal status to most of the UDHR.
The UDHR, in Britain, influenced the 1998 Human Rights Act which includes the right to life, the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression. It recognised in British Law the European Convention on Human Rights, which had been ratified by the Council of Europe in 1953. The British Human Rights Act 1998 covers all of the articles and additional protocols of the European Convention with only minor amendments.
What are my rights?
The rights as set out in the Human Rights Act, 1998 are as follows:
- the right to life
- freedom from torture and degraded treatment
- freedom from slavery and forced labour
- the right to liberty
- the right to a fair trial
- the right not to be punished for something that wasn't a crime when you did it
- the right to respect for private and family life
- freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- freedom of expression
- freedom of assembly and association
- the right to marry or form a civil partnership and start a family
- the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights and freedoms
- the right to own property
- the right to an education
- the right to participate in free elections and cultural life
- the right to a nationality.
UDHR and Magna Carta
Discussions in the English-speaking world about the origins of rights invariably mention Magna Carta, in the context of forbidding detention without trial . For example, Article 9 of the Declaration, relating to freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and exile, echoes the essence of clause 39 in the 1215 Magna Carta. Following the adoption of the Declaration by the United Nations General Assembly, the influence of Magna Carta was acknowledged by Eleanor Roosevelt. She declared in a speech to the Assembly that, ‘this Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere’.
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In 1998 Britain passed the Human Rights Act. It recognised in British Law the European Convention on Human Rights, which had been ratified by the Council of Europe in 1953, but its origins go back even before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
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