A World Made New | Mary Ann Glendon

Summary of: A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
By: Mary Ann Glendon


Dive into the compelling story of how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came to be, as we explore Mary Ann Glendon’s book ‘A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. Understand how the atrocities of World War II led world leaders to develop new institutions to rebuild society. Discover how representatives from 16 UN member states worked together and overcame difficulties to create a document at the heart of modern human rights movement. Be inspired by the distinguished and passionate individuals like Eleanor Roosevelt, John P. Humphrey, and Hansa Mehta, whose contributions made the Declaration possible.

Building New International Institutions

In the aftermath of World War II, leaders established new global organizations to help rebuild nations. Among them were the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. While the UN Charter was being created, the United States pushed for the inclusion of a Human Rights Commission, which aimed to protect the voices of vulnerable people. The Charter ultimately included language about human rights, but questions remained about what those rights entailed, their universality, and the limits to intervention in a country’s domestic affairs. This set the stage for the UN General Assembly’s meeting in 1946.

The Powerhouses Behind the Creation of the Modern Human Rights Movement

The birth of the modern human rights movement was a challenging feat that was accomplished by the joint efforts of representatives from 16 UN member states. The team had to navigate through ideological and linguistic differences which led to unending clashes during the drafting committee. In the end, the Declaration of Human Rights was created thank to the determination of the following noteworthy individuals; John P. Humphrey, Hansa Mehta, Carlos Romulo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Peng-chun Chang, René Cassin, and Charles Malik. Roosevelt played the role of a manager and maintained focus on the project among the committee. Chang proved to be an expert in uniting different cultures and religions, ensuring that human rights were for everyone. Meanwhile, Cassin’s competence was in turning the threads of the Declaration into a network of interconnected principles rather than a mere list. Malik stressed the importance of prioritizing individual human rights over cultural or national group rights, which helped catalyze the adoption of the Declaration during critical times. The significance of this group’s collaborative work cannot be understated, as the Declaration serves as a fundamental guide in protecting the rights of our world’s citizens.

Crafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The process of creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights involved navigating cultural differences and balancing national interests against human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a landmark document that outlines the rights to which every human being is entitled. Crafting such a document, however, was no small feat. The Commission responsible for drafting the Declaration simultaneously worked on a Covenant that would carry legal and binding obligations, outlining two separate Covenants, one for civil and political rights and another for cultural, economic, and social rights.

The Commission had to draft six versions of the Declaration over two years, accounting for the perspectives of all UN member states while keeping the Declaration concise and easy to understand. The task was made even more complex by the fact that the concept of human rights varies across cultures. To better understand these differences, the Commission distributed a questionnaire to scholars and global leaders, including Mohandas Gandhi, Aldous Huxley, and Humayin Kabir. Responses yielded a list of fifteen norms that overlapped across cultures, such as the right to work, education, and property; fair procedures and political participation; and the right to rebel against an unjust regime.

The chief obstacle to the unanimous approval of the Declaration was the potential for legitimizing outside interference in a country’s internal affairs. Despite this concern, the Commission successfully balanced the interests of all member states, producing a declaration that continues to serve as a beacon of human rights today.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights brought together concepts from multiple documents to codify freedoms that are not tied to class, gender, race, or nation. It bridged differences between European, American, and non-Western concepts of rights. It incorporated various economic, political, and social theories, philosophies, and religious concepts, linking social security and freedom to peace. It aimed to give voice to those without power and provide a unified basis for evaluating how well nations treated and defended their citizens, without being intended solely for governments that backed its implementation but for humanity as a whole.

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