“Man’s desire for peace lies behind this Declaration.”

“Man’s desire for peace lies behind this Declaration. The realisation that the flagrant violation of human rights by Nazi and Fascist countries sowed the seeds of the last world war has supplied the impetus for the work which brings us to the moment of achievement today.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt, 10 December 1948

Born in part from the need to implement a legal framework around human rights following the genocidal crimes of the Nazis, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed in 1948.

Three years after the end of World War II, the Declaration was presented by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. The document presents the standards of fundamental human rights that are to be universally protected; its key promises translated into over 500 languages. This document was passed alongside the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Although a positive step towards the protection of the inalienable rights of individuals, races, ethnicities and religions, these enactments by the UN come under criticism as the world has, since 1948, continued to witness heinous crimes.

The Declaration is, in fact, non-binding and excludes important groups of rights holders, such as indigenous peoples. The Convention does not cover population expulsions, cultural genocide, or persecution of political groups. As well, neither of these documents seriously inhibits state sovereignty.

So whilst Eleanor Roosevelt’s words on 10 December 1948 are poignant and inspiring, it is our duty to revisit human rights history, and the successes and challenges of its legislations, 70 years later. As a people who ourselves have been vulnerable, it is our duty to care about others when they are vulnerable, too.

The Sydney Jewish Museum’s new permanent exhibition, The Holocaust and Human Rights, takes as its starting point this crucial moment in human rights history, for both its successes and its major pitfalls. Australian Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow expressed, at the launch of the new exhibition, the very urgency that the world felt in 1948 for a new way of organising itself, and a similar urgency today that for every violation there is a triumph or a victory for human rights and for dignity of all humans.

Image: UN Photo

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