Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948. Described by the UN as “one of the world’s most groundbreaking global pledges,” the declaration:

enshrines the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark the significance of the document, Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December.

The 75th anniversary of the declaration this year has been marked by the yearlong UN Human Rights 75 Initiative. The initiative has three main goals: universality, progress and engagement. There have been a number of regional events and the initiative culminates in a high-level event on 11 and 12 December where global pledges will be announced.

Although the Declaration is not itself legally binding, many of its provisions are reflected in other international human rights treaties and have become widely accepted as forming part of customary international law. The Universal Declaration, alongside the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), forms part of the so-called International Bill of Rights.

The UN Convention on Genocide

The UN Convention on Genocide was signed on 9 December 1948, and came into force in 1951. It codified the crime of genocide in international law:

The Genocide Convention was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9 December 1948 and signified the international community’s commitment to ‘never again’ after the atrocities committed during the Second World War. Its adoption marked a crucial step towards the development of international human rights and international criminal law as we know it today.

The adoption of the Genocide convention is commemorated every year on 9 December, the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime.

Each state has its own process for acknowledging genocide. The UK Government says its position on acknowledging genocide: “has always been that determinations of genocide should be made by competent courts, rather than by governments or non-judicial bodies [such as parliament].” 

The UK recognises five genocides: the Holocaust, those in Cambodia, Srebrenica, Rwanda, and most recently the acts of genocide committed by Daesh against Yazidis.  More information on the process of recognising genocide in the UK, and the role of the courts is provided in a Library insight, UK acknowledges Yazidi genocide by Daesh/Islamic State.

Further reading

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations

Illustrated version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (PDF), United Nations

Human Rights Day 2023, The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations

Human Rights 75 Initiative, The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations

Human rights and fundamental freedoms: joint statement to the OSCE Ministerial Council 2023, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, 1 December

UDHR75: Time to renew commitments to the UN’s human rights mechanisms and bodies – Oral statement to HRC52, Amnesty International press release, 24 March 2023

Human rights and democracy report 2022, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, 13 July 2023

UN: On 75th Anniversary, Recommit to Human Rights, Human Rights Watch press release, 16 September 2023

International Human Rights Day 2022, House of Commons Library, 2 December 2023

Joint Committee on Human Rights (webpage)

Oxford Human Rights Hub (webpage)

Equality and Human Rights Commission (webpage)

The British Institute of Human Rights (webpage)

All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (membership)

UK acknowledges Yazidi genocide by Daesh/Islamic State, House of Commons Library, 9 August 2023

Genocide: bringing perpetrators to justice, House of Lords Library, 21 May 2021

Recognition of the Ukrainian Holodomor, House of Commons Library, 19 May 2023

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) Factsheet, [accessed 6 December 2023]

Genocide, UN Office on genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect, [accessed 6 December 2023]

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