One area of international law that has been consistently difficult to gain acceptance, enforcement and compliance with its agreed standards has been that of human rights. Although a clear international statement of human rights has been enshrined for over half a century within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations in 1948, there remains a relativist undercurrent with respect to how various governments interpret and apply human rights standards. Since 9/11, the concept of human rights has become even more nebulous as states that had been the leading champions of international human rights have begun to compromise their commitment to such ideals in deference to their national security.
This paper will discuss the importance and limitations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It will trace the history of the Declaration, discuss how it has been interpreted and applied over the decades since its adoption, and consider the ways in which modern global issues pose challenges to its spirit and premise. The difficulty of achieving uniform global human rights protections, particularly in an era heavily influenced by basic security and defense concerns, vividly illustrates the more general challenge of enforcing international law among sovereign states.
The UnivPost War Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the earliest, and arguably most important, achievements of the United Nations. It very much reflects the international revulsion that came in the wake of the atrocities of World War II. The experience of the holocaust was a wakeup call, whereby the people of the world became keenly aware of what humans are capable of doing to one another. In a sense, the holocaust represented the rock bottom consequence of previous failures of the international community to come together in the spirit of promoting peace and human rights. Thus, an atmosphere of atonement and a desire to correct the obvious failures of prior international law to protect the most basic human dignities permeated the effort to implement the Declaration.
Such post war attitudes clearly echo throughout the Declaration, particularly in the preamble. In fact, the very first two clauses of the preamble directly refer to the barbarity of which humans had been proven capable: "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world . . . Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people" (Anonymous, 2006, para. 2 and 3). Without a doubt, the framers of the Declaration clearly sought to address the atrocities of the holocaust head on. According to the American Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey D. Feltman, "The drafters of the Declaration were able to draw inspiration from heroic efforts in the post-war period to assert the primacy of human rights and the dignity of individuals" (Ambassador Feltman speaks at the 56th anniversary, 2006, para. 3).
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was far more than a reaction to a particularly dark