History of the Declaration of Human Rights

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Human Rights Month

We have nearly made it through twelve months that have rocked the nation and the world. It’s very fitting as the final month of the year wraps up, that we take the opportunity to honor Human Rights Month. We can use this time to reflect and connect with what human rights mean to each of us, and to renew our right to the responsibility of defending the inherent and irrevocable rights given to every single human being. 

We’ve witnessed a global pandemic that has and swept across countries and counties alike and gave so many of us losses of truly wonderful people in our lives. 

We’ve all had to adjust to wearing masks in public and distancing ourselves physically from the people we love and cherish most in our lives in our effort to slow the spread of Covid-19 to the most vulnerable of our families, friends, and communities. 

Small businesses have shut down, concerts at Big Top were canceled, Applefest didn’t happen, and Whistlestop was halted. Holidays, Birthdays, and Graduation Ceremonies looking drastically different than anything any of us have done. It’s been a tough year everywhere and for everyone, with the economy hurting, and the disenfranchised and marginalized communities suffering the most during these trying times. 

We’ve seen folks across the country and in our communities, from  Black, brown, and white come together to defend the human right that everyone deserves to be safe. After witnessing multiple examples of unnecessary police brutality on Black and brown lives, there is still a lot of work left to do. This is the human right to live without fear for ourselves and our loved ones. 

When we think of how all-encompassing human rights are, it can be overwhelming to reflect on the magnitude of what that means, but when we boil it down, it’s humanity. As Eleanor Rosevelt said, “Such are the places that every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.”

History of the Human Rights Declaration

June 12th, 1941: The Declaration of St. James’ Palace

Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa and the exiled governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Grease, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia, and of General de Gaulle of France, came together at St. James’ Palace to sign a declaration that would look beyond war to work for peace. 

A quote from the declaration, “The only true basis of enduring peace is the willing cooperation of free peoples in a world in which, relieved of the menace of aggression, all may enjoy economic and social security; It is our intention to work together, and with other free peoples, both in war and peace, to this end.”

Photo Credit: United Nations, Historical Photo

August 14th, 1941: “The Atlantic Charter

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill convened “somewhere at sea,” on the Atlantic Ocean where the ‘Battle of the Atlantic,’ was waging on, to draft and issue a declaration that would serve as hope to occupied countries during World War 2 on the fight for Human Rights. 

This document was not a treaty between the two powers. Nor was it a final and formal expression of peace aims. It was only an affirmation, as the document declared, ‘of certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they based their hopes for a better future for the world.’


Photo Credit: United Nations, Historical Photo

January 1st, 1942

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Maxim Litvinov, of the USSR, and T.V. Soong, of China, signed the document that would eventually evolve into “The United Nations Declaration.”

January 2nd, 1942

Representatives of twenty-two additional nations added their signatures to this historical declaration.

Photo Credit: United Nations, Historical Photo

October 30th, 1943: The Moscow Declaration

Cordel Hull, The United States Secretary of State, made his way to Moscow for a conference that would cause the fruition of The Moscow Declaration, with the signatures of Vyaches Molotov, Anthony Eden, Cordell Hull, and Foo Ping Shen, the Chinese Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

December 1st, 1943: Teheran 

Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill met for the first time in the capital of Iran: Teheran. Where they declared that they had collaborated to work out and finalize plans to establish the victory of World War 2.

Photo Credit: United Nations, Historical Photo

October 7th, 1944: Dumbarton Oaks

Representatives of China, Great Britain, the USSR, and the United States gathered for a conference at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C. At the beginning of the proposal for the structure of a world organization that would be known as the United Nations. People from all countries who wanted to invest in universal peace were welcome to join in discussions and development.

February 11th, 1945

Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin reconvened to establish with their Allies a method upon which would be used for voting procedures within the international organization established to maintain peace and security. 

March 5th, 1945 

Official invitations were sent for the first United Nations Conference to be held in San Francisco, California. 

April 12th, 1945 

President Roosevelt, who was a pillar in the creation and collaboration of what would be known as the United Nations, and a truly celebrated and respected leader of the United States, passed away quite suddenly. Which caused speculation that the conference would be postponed. However, President Truman chose to carry on and continue with the plans put in place for the conference to be held. 

June 24th, 1945: The San Francisco Conference

 The United Nations formally becomes an actuality. 

Thus delegates of fifty nations in all gathered at the City of the Golden Gate, representatives of over eighty percent of the world’s population, people of every race, religion, and continent; all determined to set up an organization which would preserve peace and helps build a better world. They had before them the Dumbarton Oaks proposals as the agenda for the conference and, working on this basis, they had to produce a Charter acceptable to all the countries,” states on the website for the  United Nations Organization.

October 24th, 1945: The Charter is Signed 

Fifty countries gathered in San Francisco, California, and signed the “United Nations Charter.” Poland would sign the document shortly after, becoming one of the original 51 member states. 

“The Charter of the United Nations” can be read here

Seventy-five years have passed since the United Nations became an official International Organization that protects and progresses Human Rights across the globe. While the United Nations has worked hard to protect humanity and has positively impacted the world as it was and is known, such as the work accomplished to put forth the  ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’ Yet,’ there is still a great deal of work left to do. 

By reviewing this timeline, it’s clear that peace and equality, unfortunately, does not happen overnight, nor is it linear. There are great triumphs of progress, and there are devastating defeats that cause us to question the humanity of others. What can be said from our origins to our present day, is that when we come together, we can accomplish so much more than when we go it alone.

That’s why it’s up to all of us to protect Human Rights. Again, repeating the words of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, “Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

History of the United Nations, from https://www.un.org/en/sections/history/history-united-nations/index.html

Chelsea Anderson

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