From Declarations to Actions: The Needed Efforts of the UN to Enforce the UDHR

Blog by Madison Lane, Junior Associate

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) resulted from the Second World War when the international community vowed that such conflict should never happen again. [1] This document set forth articles that address fundamental human rights that are never to be violated and must be universally protected. [2] However, the UDHR is a framework. [3] Although the declaration provides a solid foundation for universal change, the document specifies no instruction or guidance on how to ensure that these fundamental values are enforced across the globe. [4] So, what measures are the United Nations taking to ensure that the member States domestically enforce these rights in their home countries?

It was the original intention of the framers of the UDHR, following the creation of the declaration, to then have a convention, create a treaty, and assert measures for implementation, but that never came to be. [5] Without a legal treaty from the United Nations, ensuring these rights are put into practice is difficult. [6] However, the rights enshrined in the UDHR have not remained mere words on paper. They have found their way into international treaties, a testament to the progress made. “Today, all United Nations member States have ratified at least one of the nine core international human rights treaties, and 80 percent have ratified four or more, giving concrete expression to the universality of the UDHR and international human rights.” [7]

The declaration is also universally endorsed by 48 member States, [8] “but the fact remains that people endowed with the rights enumerated in the UDHR live within states, and states remain sovereign.” [9] Conferences can be held, and statements can be released, but without accountability mechanisms and increased collaboration amongst international organizations, member States continue to ignore the rights listed in the UDHR at their own discretion. [10] This leaves the world asking, when will universal rights actually become universal?

[1] History of the Declaration, United Nations, (last visited Apr. 7, 2024).


[2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A(III), U.N. GAOR, 3d Sess., U.N. Doc. A/810 (Dec. 12, 1948).


[3] Ş. İlgü Özler, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at Seventy: Progress and Challenges, the Journal of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, (2018),,framework%20for%20actually%20achieving%20them.


[4] Id.


[5] History of the Declaration, supra note 1.


[6] Ş. İlgü Özler, supra note 3.


[7] The Foundation of International Human Rights Law, United Nations, (last visited Apr. 7, 2024).


[8] Andrew Glass, United Nations Adopts Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 10, 1948, Politico (Dec. 10, 2015) (last visited Jan. 9, 2024).


[9] Ş. İlgü Özler, supra note 3.


[10] Id.

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