Reflections From A Baha’i | A Brief History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, was motivated by the horrors of the Second World War. With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow such atrocities to happen again.

It was Eleanor Roosevelt who chaired the Commission on Human Rights tasked by the U.N. to formulate “a preliminary International Bill of Human Rights.”

Many individuals, groups and organizations worked on the document, making recommendations for its composition. During the first session of the Commission held in New York, the Baha’i International Community submitted a document entitled, “A Baha’í Declaration Of Human Obligations And Rights.” The Declaration began this way: “The source of human rights is the endowment of qualities, virtues and powers which God has bestowed upon mankind without discrimination of sex, race, creed or nation. To fulfill the possibilities of this divine endowment is the purpose of human existence.”

Ultimately, portions of the wording of the Baha’i document found its way into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As the process went forward to complete the UDHR, the Baha’i International Community worked for its adoption around the world. Baha’is in various countries urged their governments to recognize and ratify the UDHR, and after it was completed and successfully adopted the Baha’is advanced a campaign to recognize the Declaration and help educate the world about it. The campaign, called “Human Rights Are God-Given Rights,” took root in the United States and soon spread globally.

From a Baha’i perspective a common standard of human rights must one day be upheld by a federation of nations. And it is only through unified efforts that human dignity, rights and obligations will be upheld. One of the most poignant statements from the Baha’i document of 1947 seems especially powerful and prescient today:

“The true destiny of the national state is to build the bridge from local autonomy to world unity. It can preserve its moral heritage and function only as it contributes to the establishment of a sovereign world. Both state and people are needed to serve as the strong pillar supporting the new institutions reflecting the full and final expression of human relationships in an ordered society. In delaying to fulfill the historic mandate given the peoples and nations of our age to unite, we give opportunity and encouragement to subversive forces whose weapon is confusion and whose aim is chaos.”

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