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Universal Declaration of Human Rights : The most translated document in history

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Written by   39
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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 in Paris at the Palais de Chaillot.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in history.

In 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights counts 520 translations, available on its website (https://www.ohchr.org/FR/UDHR/Pages/SearchByLang.aspx ).

I invite you to find yours according to your language, the text being rather short (8 pages in its original French version).

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has nevertheless a reservation regarding the quality and accuracy of translations other than those made in the six official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The project of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A Human Rights Commission was created by the Economic and Social Council in 1946. The commission met in two sessions. The first in June 1947 was composed of a President, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Vice-President, P.C. Chang, and the Rapporteur, Charles Malik.

The second was held on May 21, 1948, replacing Charles Malik with Emile Saint-Lot and expanding to :

·        John Peters Humphrey, (Canada), Director of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations;

·        William Roy Hodgson, (Australia), member;

·        Hernán Santa Cruz, (Chile), member;

·        René Cassin, (France), Member;

·        Alexander Bogomolov, (USSR), member;

·        Charles Dukes (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), Member.

What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

This text sets out the fundamental rights of the individual, their recognition, and their respect by the law.

Without any real legal scope as such, this text is a proclamation of rights, therefore it has only declarative value.

Its French version, composed of 30 articles, is an official original, signed and approved by the founding members of the United Nations, and not an approved translation.

It also includes a preamble with eight considerations recognizing the need for the inalienable respect of fundamental human rights by all countries, nations and political regimes, and which concludes with the announcement of its approval and proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly.

The drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The first preparatory draft developed by John Peters Humphrey, of Anglo-Saxon inspiration, consisted of a list of rights in accordance with the model of the Bill of Rights of many American states.

The final structure of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was elaborated by René Cassin, a French jurist who compared it to the portico of a Greek temple.

The text begins with a Preamble and reserves its first articles to the statement of general principles intended to guide the interpretation of the detailed provisions they precede, imitating on this point the French Civil Code.

He saw the structure as a succession of considerations comparable to steps, four columns consisting of individual, family, social and political rights, and a pediment unifying the whole in a single vision of humanity,9 composed of the last three articles of the text.

This progression makes it possible to give context to the interpretation of the various articles while giving it a general scope. The structure of René Cassin facilitates the desired universal scope of the text more of an Anglo-Saxon structure. Moreover, the French structure and language has been and still is used in certain regions of the world for international agreements.

The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

58 states participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights :

- 50 voted in favor;

- 0 voted against;

- 8 abstentions (South Africa; Saudi Arabia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia; Soviet Union (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus), Yemen, and Honduras).

For what legal scope?

The United Nations General Assembly wished to create a binding text and entrusted the UN Commission on Human Rights with this mission.

The project resulted in two complementary texts: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This text is binding on the states that have ratified it, and will be the subject of a future article.

Thank you for having read it and do not hesitate to subscribe.

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