|What are the most
important human rights described in the Universal Declaration?
Fundamental human rights are too closely linked to be rated on a
scale of most importance to least important.
If you read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, appearing
on the next pages of this Guide, you will probably find yourself thinking that some of the
rights described are more crucial than others for your well-being. This reaction is rooted
in your own history and circumstances. To other people, with different personal histories
and living under different conditions, other rights will seem more important. Each right,
however, carries great importance for all people. The 30 articles of the Declaration are
not organized under particular categories because they are too closely interrelated for
such divisions. They are also interdependent, building on one another and reinforcing one
another. In other words, human rights are indivisible.
Arguments over which rights are most important raged during the
drafting of the Declaration, and controversy continued even within the past decade.
Western governments tended to maintain during the cold war that civil and political rights
took precedence over economic and social rights. Until its collapse, the Soviet Union and
its allies took the opposite position.
In the 1990s, international understanding that basic rights are
interdependent and universal has expanded dramatically. States throughout the world have
agreed that neither individuals nor governments can be permitted to ignore rights which
they may consider inconvenient at particular times or under particular circumstances. And
no authorities can justify failure to protect certain rights on grounds that scarce
resources must be used to protect rights with "higher priority."
The idea that there are first-priority rights and second-priority
rights has proved intolerable to people suffering human rights violations, as well as to
people experienced in protecting their own human rights and the human rights of others.
They have seen the whole system of human rights begin to unravel when one individual or
group is denied basic human rights or when one human right is ignored.
Without freedom of expression, for example, there can be no free
press or criticism of government policies. Insulated from the observations of local
communities and the reports of independent media, government authorities can continue to
implement economically and socially destructive policies. Over and over again, such
policies have led to famine, economic collapse, or other disasters.
National Coordinating Committee for UDHR50.
Copyright © Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
Institute. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 28, 1998.