Cover image for The Universal Declaration of Human Rights : origins, drafting, and intent
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights : origins, drafting, and intent
Morsink, Johannes.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 378 pages ; 26 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
K3238.31948 .M67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In his 1941 State of the Union message President Franklin Roosevelt called for the protection worldwide of four essential freedoms: "the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear". Roosevelt's enunciation of these freedoms was part of a movement that gathered strength in the 1940s and strived to make the protection of human rights part of the conditions for peace at the end of World War II. In 1947 Eleanor Roosevelt was elected to be the chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that was charged to produce a separate document for this purpose.

The resulting Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, has become the moral backbone of more than two hundred human rights instruments that are now a part of our world. The document has been a source of hope and inspiration to thousands of groups and millions of oppressed individuals.

Johannes Morsink offers a behind-the-scenes account of the Declaration's origins and development. He reports on the detailed discussions that took place in the United Nations, tells us which countries argued for or against each provision of the Declaration, explains why certain important amendments were rejected, and shows how common revulsion toward the Holocaust provided the consensus needed to adopt this universal code of ethics.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In times of official peace the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become the most important statement of international ethics in the 20th century (the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Protocols have become the important ethical statements for times of war). Morsink (Drew Univ.) has written the definitive work to date covering the negotiations leading to the Declaration's adoption by the UN General Assembly. His work, 15 years in the making, reveals a number of interesting facts: the inclusion of economic and social rights was not the contribution of the communist bloc but of the democratic socialists of Latin America working with Canadian UN official John Humphrey; both the US and the Soviet Union were opposed to legally binding language, preferring a statement of moral rights and aspirations; the feminist movement was well organized and active and had some impact on the wording of the Declaration; the experience of WW II and the Holocaust influenced the document; the Declaration was the product of a truly universal negotiating process rather than of strictly Western values, even though Africa and Asia were underrepresented; and human rights were considered both ends in themselves and a means to international peace and security. Morsink's book is essential reading for everyone interested in human rights. D. P. Forsythe University of Nebraska