| Didn't Nazi tyranny end all hope for protecting human rights in
the modern world?
On the contrary, the world response to Nazi tyranny inaugurated a
new era of human rights protection.
Nazi tyranny and atrocities pierced world consciousness as no
horrors of inhumanity had before. Under Nazi direction, racial, religious, and national
prejudices exploded into deadly persecution of many groups and a systematic attempt to
exterminate the Jewish people. Six million Jews, including more than a million Jewish
children who had not yet reached their teenage years, were killed. State power was
absolute in Nazi-controlled territory: no human rights remained.
This catastrophe, however, sharpened the world's focus on the
imperative of personal freedoms. President Roosevelt linked peace to respect for human
rights "everywhere in the world" in his famous Four Freedoms speech to Congress
in 1941. He identified freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and
freedom from fear as mandatory. Commitments to secure these basic freedoms were reiterated
during 1942 and 1943 by Allied leaders in London, Washington, and Moscow.
As World War II neared an end, Allied powers began to make plans
for what would become the United Nations. Government representatives drafted a proposal in
1944 for a world organization. By the time the 1945 Conference on World Organization
convened to finalize the proposal, delegates from throughout the world were facing a
deluge of popular demands for stronger commitments to protect human rights. Delegates from
Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, India, Mexico, and many other countries submitted new human rights
proposals to the conference.
The U.S. Government invited representatives of 42 American
organizations to serve as official consultants to the U.S. delegation. The organizations
included religious, labor, farm, business, civic, and other groups. Arguing that people in
the United States would support the new world organization only if it made unequivocal
human rights pledges, the consultants successfully convinced the American delegation to
champion human rights. The result was agreement among conference delegates to designate
human rights protection as one of the four primary goals of the United Nations.
The Charter they adopted to define the mission of the United
Nations also presents new dimensions to human rights: international responsibility for
observing the fundamental rights shared equally by everyone, everywhere, and international
responsibility for actively promoting these rights.
National Coordinating Committee for UDHR50.
Copyright © Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
Institute. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 28, 1998.