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The United Nations
The Four Freedoms
United Nations Charter
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
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The United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The cover of an Office of War Information pamphlet entitled "The United Nations fight for the Four Freedoms."

In his speech before the United States Congress on January 6, 1941, President Roosevelt mentioned that "Four Freedoms" are essential for all people:
  • freedom of speech and religion,
  • freedom from want and fear.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill echoed the American President, saying that an Allied victory would be marked by the "enthronement of human rights."

Atlantic Charter

After the Second World War, an international organization was needed to ensure that everyone was protected. Such an organization had already been agreed to during a meeting between United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when they adopted the Atlantic Charter in 1941. On this occasion, they stated their hopes, among other things, "that all men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from want and fear."

The United Nations

In an attempt to prevent further conflicts, the United Nations (UN) was established in 1945. Delegates from more than 50 nations met in San Francisco. The Charter was ratified on October 24 of that year, and the first U.N. General Assembly met in London on January 10, 1946. More than 190 nations have now agreed to support this Declaration. The UN charter states that one of its main purposes is the promotion and encouragement of "respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion."

The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration represents a compromise between the Western capitalist democracies and the Eastern Communist countries. The Western nations emphasized the importance of individual rights and the Communist countries emphasized the importance of community rights. The signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights still represents the most important event ever that has attempted to guarantee human rights for all. Various other documents have been signed since then that aim to strengthen these rights. One of the most important has been the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed in November 1989.

Although almost all countries of the world have agreed to support the convention, the United States, together with Somalia, has not supported the convention. Successive governments have had a problem with several articles in the Convention, including:

Article 37

States Parties shall ensure that:
(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.

The United Nations Today

The United Nations, based in New York City, remains the most important international organization in the world. The Second World War and the Holocaust altered forever the way in which people thought about human rights. Before the war, human rights were thought to be the responsibility of individual countries, not the international community. Today, both individuals and nations can be held accountable for their deeds.

Key decisions are made often made by the UN Security Council. This consists of 5 permanent members (The United States, Britain, China, Russia and France) and ten members that constantly rotate.

Image credit: USHMM, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park.
Anne Frank Guide
This day in history
Today: 21 November 2018
Then: 20 November 1945

Leading Nazis are brought to trial in Nuremburg (Germany). Some are sentenced to death, others to long prison sentences.