When the United Nations, on 10 December 1948, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was the first time in history that a global organization affirmed a set of norms claiming universal authority and validity. The ensuing decades have shown the Declaration to be controversial - too strong for some, not binding enough for others - yet always relevant. An enduring and facinating question is how it was possible for the United Nations - with 58 members at the time, representing most parts of the world at various stages of development, and with a variety of political systems, religions and cultures - to agree at all on a single document of this kind. Most of the UN members supported the final text of the Declaration; no one voted against. A historical and political analysis of the origins of the Declaration, this study explains why a consensus was possible and documents how it was achieved. It also analyses the reasons why the human rights question was placed centrally on the international agenda at the time. The study makes extensive use of UN documents as well as archival material from British and American sources.

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