This article was written by Astitva Kumar, an advocate; and has been further updated by Syed Owais Khadri. This article talks about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on December 10, 1948. Along with this, the author has also discussed global dynamics before the UDHR’s drafting, and a thorough examination of the articles enshrined in the Declaration.
This article has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
“All human rights for all’ and ‘the world is one family” are the two notions that have relied on the broadened definition of human rights, ensuring human dignity for every individual of the human race in the global village.
The question of fundamental human rights has been relevant ever since the rudimentary structure of human society came to be established. Such rights can be said to comprise the basic needs of human beings, which include the right to food, the right to breathe clean and unpolluted air, the right to shelter, the right to clothing, and the right to a decent environment, all of which are essential for human beings to live and survive, as against natural rights, which all living beings enjoy from birth and which no human agency can give or take away.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares, from the outset, that its goal is to establish worldwide human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a building block in the modern history of human rights since it draws from ancient to contemporary philosophies in response to the horrific events of World War II.
What are human rights
The term “human right” does not have a specific scientific definition. These are moral claims that are inalienable and inherent in all human beings solely because of their existence. These claims are expressed and formalised in what we now refer to as human rights, and have been translated into constitutional/legal rights established through the law-making processes of states/societies, both nationally and internationally.
Human rights are often defined as “inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is essentially entitled just by virtue of being human.” Thus, human rights are understood as universal (meaning they apply everywhere) and egalitarian (meaning they are the same for everyone). Human rights is a generic term that includes and is the traditional civil and political rights and newly developed modern economic, social and cultural rights.
The concept of human rights is also closely linked to human dignity. The World Conference on Human Rights which was held in 1993 in Vienna stated in its Declaration, “All of the human rights are drawn from the basic concept of human dignity, worth inherited in the human being. Human rights and fundamental freedoms revolve around the human individual.”
History of human rights
The sphere of human rights has witnessed consistent and significant developments over the past century, especially after World War II, but at the same time, it is also important to note that human rights have always been a cardinal part of mankind across various cultures and human civilisations.
The earliest evidence of human rights can be traced back to the Persian Empire of Cyrus around 539 B.C. It is a recent theory that Cyrus, after the capture of Babylon, established racial equality and freed all the slaves. He declared that every human being has the right to choose a religion of their own choice. Other principles with regard to human rights were recorded on baked clay cylinders, which were commonly known as Cyrus cylinders. The most recent discussions about the Cyrus cylinder began in 1971, when the UN received a replica of the Cyrus Cylinder with an English translation of it.
Developments in England
Some of the significant developments witnessed in England with regard to human rights. These developments include:
- The Magna Carta Principles (1215)
- The Petition of Right (1628)
- The English Bill of Rights (1689)
The Magna Carta Principles (1215)
One of the major developments in the sphere of human rights was witnessed in England in the form of the royal charter of Magna Carta in 1215 by King John of England. Magna Carta principles are considered a cornerstone in the history of human rights as it is the first and foremost formal document on human rights. It introduced the principle of “rule of law”, which is one of the major facets of human rights. This Charter was drafted as a peace agreement with the main objective of ending the rebellion of barons against the monarch in England. The charter was mainly focused on providing swift access to justice, protection of church rights, and protection from arbitrary arrests. The charter also laid limitations on the feudal payments to the king.
The Petition of Right (1628)
The following development with regard to human rights was the ‘Petition of Right’ in the year 1628, during the reign of King Charles I in England. This petition was drafted by the Parliament of England after prolonged political tensions between the Monarch and the Parliament. The petition consisted of a list of various demands, such as end to arbitrary imprisonment without trial, illegal taxation, etc. The Petition of Right is considered a significant step in the long process of transitioning England from monarchy to parliamentary democracy.
The English Bill of Rights (1689)
The Petition of Right in England was followed by the English Bill of Rights 1689. The bill was converted into law with the assent of William III and Mary II, the then monarchs of England. It gave various civil and constitutional rights, including freedom of speech in the parliament, free elections, consent of the parliament for taxation policies, non interference from the government and equal and just treatment before the court of law.
Developments in the U.S.
The U.S. Bill of Rights, 1789 is another prominent document in the evolution of human rights. Drawing inspiration from the English Bill of Rights, the Congress of the United States in 1789 proposed amendments to the constitution. A total of 12 amendments were suggested, out of which 10 were ratified as Articles 3 to 12 of the Constitution by 1791. These 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are collectively and popularly known as the U.S. Bill of Rights. These articles granted various rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, protection from cruel punishments, etc.
Developments in France
The next significant development with regard to human rights took place in France ahead of the French Revolution. France’s National Assembly adopted the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” in 1789. This particular declaration represents one of the fundamental instruments of human liberties; it introduced one of the basic values of human civilisations, which is that all individuals are born free and everyone has equal rights. The declaration guaranteed the freedom of speech, religion, right to property, etc. The principles contained within this declaration inspired the French Revolution which is one of the most remarkable events not just in the history of France but also in world history.
Developments post 18th century
All the rights that were slowly recognised during the long process of evolution are commonly known as first generation rights. These are the various civil and political rights such as right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, right to property, right to vote, just and equal treatment before the law, prevention from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, right to vote, etc.
In the late 18th century and the early 19th century, many wars were fought between various countries, which led to the deaths of numerous soldiers. As a concern for human rights during such wars, the first Geneva Convention came into existence in 1864, which focused on treating the wounded soldiers of war. This convention was replaced by the Geneva Convention of 1906, which was further replaced by the Geneva Convention of 1929. In addition to the three Geneva Conventions, the first multilateral treaties between various nations were commissioned in two Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907 which addressed the conduct of warfare by establishing laws and customs of war. After the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the 1929 Geneva Convention was replaced by the Geneva Convention, 1949, which is in force to this date.
Classification of human rights
Civil and political rights (human rights of 1st generation)
Civil rights or liberties are rights that protect one’s right to life and liberty. They are essential for a person to enjoy a dignified life. These rights include the right to life, liberty, the right to privacy, home, and correspondence, the right to possess property, the right to be free of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and the right to move. Political rights are those that allow people to participate in the formation or administration of a government. Examples: the right to vote, the right to be elected in legitimate periodic elections, and the right to participate directly or through chosen representatives in the administration of public affairs.
Economic, social, and cultural rights (human rights of 2nd generation)
Civil and political rights are linked with western capitalist countries (eg. the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and France). On the other hand, human rights, according to socialist states, are those founded on the harmony of individual and collective interests of a socialist society. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 gave birth to economic and social rights. With the emergence of socialism in the twentieth century, these rights gained respect.
These second-generation rights are positive in the sense that they compel states to adopt proper actions to safeguard them. For example, rights include the right to adequate food, clothing, housing, and an adequate quality of life. It also includes the right to work, the right to social security, the right to good physical and mental health, and the right to education. Without these rights, human life will be jeopardised.
These rights have been recognised in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
Relationship between two generations of human rights:
Even though the two sets of rights are recognized by the UN in two different Covenants, they have a strong relationship. It has been correctly recognised that both kinds of rights are equally vital and that without civil and political rights, economic, social, and cultural rights cannot be fully realised, and vice versa.
Global dynamics preceding the drafting of Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Although the theological, philosophical, and political foundations of human rights intersected early on, providing a diverse variety of viewpoints crucial to the formation of civil liberty as a concept, no universal baseline for human rights was formed until the end of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, resulted in the formation of the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation, two of the earliest international institutions dedicated to achieving peace and promoting social justice.
The League of Nations Covenant guaranteed ‘fair and humane labor conditions’, ‘just treatment’ particularly for people from historically colonial countries and members of minority groups, and ‘freedom of conscience and religion.’
Despite the efforts made to incorporate racial equality and non-discrimination articles, the concept of international protection for human rights was never fully examined or recognised by the global community.
The Institut de Droit International (Institute of International Law), a well-respected worldwide law institution, drafted and adopted the Declaration of the International Rights of Man at its meeting in New York in 1929. This agreement declared that “every individual has equal rights to life, liberty, and property” regardless of nationality, gender, language, or religion.
Ironically, the outbreak of World War II and its numerous losses drew greater attention to the subject of human rights. WWII killed almost 60 million people between 1939 and 1945, including allied and axis soldiers and civilians, making it the deadliest battle in human history. Sexual brutality, forced labor, mass bombings, and human experimentation were among the horrors committed during and after the Holocaust.
With the pledge ‘Never Again’, the international community pledged to strengthen international collaboration to prevent future crimes against humanity. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued one of the first major humanitarian responses to the cruel conflict. In January 1941, he proposed the Four Freedoms, which recognise the basic liberties to which all people are entitled as freedom of expression, religion, lack of want, and lack of fear, as well as the ‘supremacy of human rights everywhere.’ Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were so influential that they were later incorporated into the preambles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other important human rights declarations.
The United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, and 22 other countries signed the Declaration of the United Nations in January 1942. Many states, including Panama, Chile, South Africa, and Mexico, proposed inserting human rights provisions in the UN Charter in April 1945, and as a result, the UN Charter talks about the promotion of ‘respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that is entitled to each and every individual in this world, with this it also mandated the establishment of a Commission on Human Rights under the Economic and Social Council
About the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
As previously said the concept of inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms is not new; nonetheless, the social and political setting of the mid-twentieth century was unique and left an eternal impact on the development of human rights. At a time when society was undergoing significant changes, the concept of human rights was also compelled to shift as well. Following the end of World War II, the Holocaust inevitably shed light on human rights issues, bringing those concerns to the forefront in the postwar era.
The scars left by World War II on the human fraternity made it necessary for every nation to realise the need for an international instrument that would serve as an attempt or effort towards ensuring peace and the protection of human rights. Therefore, a declaration that was essential and that would serve as a guiding light in the direction of the protection of human rights and the establishment of peace across the globe was drafted by the Commission on Human Rights. This declaration was drafted in complement to and support of the UN Charter, which mentioned the promotion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, is an international declaration that establishes all human beings’ rights and freedoms. It was adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France, after being drafted by a UN committee directed by Eleanor Roosevelt. The UDHR is a foundational text in the history of human and civil rights, consisting of 30 articles in it. Although the declaration is not legally enforceable, the rights are inscribed in the constitutions and national legislation of many countries.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with its two Optional Protocols, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights along with its Optional Protocol, forms the International Bill of Human Rights.
The UDHR, as mentioned above, comprises a preamble and 30 Articles that include both civil and political, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. Though there is no clear classification of articles into the two categories in The UDHR, they can be broadly classified depending upon the rights that each article guarantees. Articles 2 to 21 and Article 28 can be classified as civil and political rights, and Articles 22 to 27 can be categorised as economic, social, and cultural rights. The first article of the declaration is the conveyance of a message to every individual to uphold the spirit of brotherhood, and the last two articles of the declaration, i.e., Articles 29 and 30, are more like an obligation than a right; they impose the duty or obligation upon every individual and state to not exercise any of the rights enshrined in the Declaration in a way that would violate others’ rights and freedoms.
World Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10th, the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Significance of Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Since the Universal Declaration is not a treaty, it does not impose any legal duties on governments directly. It is, however, a statement of universal principles that all members of the international community share; it has also had a significant impact on the creation of international human rights law.
The UDHR serves as an instrument that has exceptional significance in the sphere of human rights. It is the primary proclamation that reflects the commitment of every nation towards the protection of human rights. This document has great significance mainly because of two reasons, firstly, for the fact that it is the first international instrument ever that focuses on the need for protection of human rights across the globe. Secondly, the UDHR paved the way for other various instruments on human rights that are legally binding upon the state parties. This declaration became the basis of international human rights law and laid a foundation for the evolution of human rights law not just at the international level but also at the domestic level. It inspired nations across the world to give significance to human rights and to respect each and every individual.
As an impact of UDHR, every nation today, regardless of whether it is a democratic country or not, has provided its citizens with at least the basics of human rights. The UDHR supported by various other international instruments on human rights, has been successful in reducing numerous practices such as racial discrimination, torture, slavery, etc., to a great extent, which were very prevalent during the 19th century. Recognition of women’s rights is another achievement of the UDHR.
Though it is said that the Universal Declaration is not legally binding upon the state parties directly, it is nevertheless important to understand that the mechanism under international human rights law makes the UDHR indirectly binding upon the state parties through the medium of forthcoming instruments on the subject of human rights. The various instruments that have come into existence at the international level are ultimately based upon the principles and rights laid down by the UDHR. Therefore, any nation that is a party to any of the instruments on human rights has an indirect legal obligation to comply with the provisions of the UDHR.
In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has given rise to several international treaties that are binding on the countries that ratify them. These include:
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Other legally binding agreements that expand on the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include:
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979
- The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
- The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006
A summary of the articles
The basic structure of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was influenced by the Code Napoléon, a series of regulations written centuries ago by Napoléon Bonaparte.
Though its final shape took form in the second draft prepared by French jurist René Cassin, who also contributed to the first draft prepared by Canadian legal expert John Peters Humphrey.
The Declaration consists of the following:
The preamble of the Declaration outlines the social and historical factors that led to the formation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 1: Free and equal
All humans are born free and equal, and they should all be treated equally.
Article 2: Freedom from discrimination
Everyone is entitled to claim their rights, regardless of their sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, or language.
- Civil and Political Rights: Articles 3 to 21
Article 3: Right to life
Everyone has the right to life, as well as the right to live in a free and secure environment.
Article 4: Freedom from slavery
No one has the right to treat anyone as a slave, and you have no right to enslave anyone.
Article 5: Freedom from torture
No one human being has the right to subject any human being to torture.
Article 6: Right to recognition before the law
Each and every individual should be legally protected by law.
Article 7: Right to equality before the law
The law is the same for everyone and it should be applied in the same way to everyone without any discrimination.
Article 8: Access to justice
When the rights of individuals are violated, they have every right to seek legal aid.
Article 9: Freedom from arbitrary detention
No individual has the authority to arbitrarily arrest or detain any individual, or deport them from their nation.
Article 10: Right to a fair trial
Trials should be open to the public and conducted fairly by an impartial and independent tribunal.
Article 11: Presumption of innocence
Until an individual is to be proven guilty in a court of law, they are presumed innocent, and hence they have the right to a defence.
Article 12: Right to privacy
Each and every human being has the right to be protected if someone attempts to damage their reputation, access their house without permission, or interfere with their correspondence.
Article 13: Freedom of movement
Everyone has the right to leave or relocate inside their own country and to return
Article 14: Right to asylum
Everyone has the right to seek refuge in another country if you are being persecuted in your homeland.
Article 15: Right to nationality
Each and every human being has the right to be a citizen of a country and to have its nationality.
Article 16: Right to marriage and to found a family
Men and women have the right to marry (only when they attain their legal age to marry) without any regard to race, country, or religion. The government and the legal system of that country should safeguard families.
Article 17: Right to own property
All human beings have the legal right to own property. No one has the authority to unlawfully take them from any individual.
Article 18: Freedom of religion or belief
Everyone has the freedom to freely express, change, and practise their religion alone or with others.
Article 19: Freedom of Expression
Everyone has the right to think and freely express ideas or whatever they decide.
Article 20: Freedom of assembly
Every individual has the right to hold peaceful meetings and to participate in them.
Article 21: Right to take part in public affairs
Everyone has the right to participate in the political activities of their country and has equal access to public service.
- Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: Articles 22 to 27
Article 22: Right to social security
Every individual should be able to develop freely and take advantage of all the benefits that their country has to offer.
Article 23: Right to work
Everyone has the right to work in just and fair conditions, with the freedom to select their work and pay that allows them to sustain themselves and their families. For equal work, everyone should be paid equally.
Article 24: Right to leisure and rest
Workdays should not be excessively long, and everyone has the right to rest and take paid leave regularly.
Article 25: Right to an adequate standard of living
Everyone has the right to have everything you require so that you and your family do not go hungry, are not homeless, and do not fall ill.
Article 26: Right to education
Regardless of race, religion, or place of origin, every human being has the right to attend school, continue their studies as far as they choose, and learn.
Article 27: Right to take part in the cultural, artistic, and scientific life
Each and every individual has the right to share the cultural, artistic, and scientific benefits of your community.
Article 28: Right to a free and fair world
To ensure that our rights are protected, there must be a court that can protect them.
Article 29: Duty to your community
We humans have responsibilities to the community that allows us to completely develop our personality. Human rights should be protected by law. It should enable everyone to appreciate and be respected by others.
Article 30: Rights are inalienable
No one, neither institution nor individual, should act in any way to undermine the rights guaranteed by the UDHR.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Human Rights in India
India, as a democratic and welfare nation, has always given utmost importance to human rights and has always been committed to the protection of human rights, which is also reflected in the Indian Constitution.
The UDHR had a great influence on the Indian Constitution since the drafting of the document was completed a year later to the adoption of the international instrument. India, being a signatory to the proclamation, ensured that the principles enshrined in the UDHR are also reflected in the Constitution of India. The words “Secular, Justice, Equality” in the preamble, the very beginning text of the Constitution, reflect the spirit of India as a nation to promote and protect human rights. The simple terms in the preamble are supported by Part III and Part IV of the Constitution, which discuss the fundamental rights and the directive principles of state policy.
Comparison of the Indian Constitution and the UDHR
The below table shows the comparison between rights provided in the Indian Constitution and the UDHR.
|Universal Declaration of Human Right
|Right to equality
|Prohibition of discrimination
|Article 15, 16(2)
|Article 2, 7
|Equality of opportunity
|Freedom of speech and expression
|Right to form peaceful assembly
|Right to form association or union
|Freedom of movement and residence within the state
|Article 19(1)(d) and (e)
|Freedom to practise profession, business or occupation of choice
|Right against retrospective application of penal laws
|Right to life and personal liberty
|Right to education
|Article 21A and 45
|Right against arbitrary detention
|Right to be heard
|Article 22(1) and 39A
|Prohibition of trafficking and forced labour
|Freedom of religion and conscience
|Right to enjoyment of cultural life
|Article 22 and 27
|Remedy for enforcement of rights
|Right to adequate means of livelihood and standard of living and health
|Article 39(a) and 43
|Right to equal pay for equal work
|Right to healthy childhood and special care and assistance
The Supreme Court of India has been playing a significant role in the evolution of domestic jurisprudence with regard to the sphere of human rights. Though the Constitution lists down specific rights under Part III, the Supreme Court through wide interpretation of the provisions under Part III, has always engaged in making the fundamental rights inclusive. The Supreme Court, through its decisions, has added various rights, such as the right to education and the right to privacy, within the meaning of the right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution, as implied fundamental rights. The Supreme Court of India has also recognised and invoked the UDHR in various cases. Some of the cases where the Supreme Court of India has discussed the UDHR are briefly discussed below.
His holiness Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala & Anr. (1973)
- In the present case, the petitioner was the chief of a religious institution (Mutt) in the state of Kerala. The Mutt’s land was acquired by the state under the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1969. The petitioner challenged this Act in the Supreme Court, contending that the Legislation is violative of Article 26 which provides for freedom to manage religious institutions.
- The Parliament in the meanwhile passed 24th, 25th and 29th Constitutional Amendment Acts, which added the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Acts, 1969 and 1971 to the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution and also curtailed the right to property as a fundamental right.
- The petitioner challenged the constitutional validity of these acts and the power of parliament to amend fundamental rights.
- Whether or not the parliament can amend the fundamental rights.
- Whether or not the impugned Constitutional Amendment Acts are valid.
Though the present case is a landmark one that dealt with various issues, the relevant portion of the judgement with regard to human rights is the issue of the power of parliament to amend fundamental rights. The Court in this case held that the parliament has the power to amend any provision of the Constitution, but the amendment should not be violative of the basic structure of the Constitution which includes the fundamental features of the constitution such as equality, justice, or any of the principles mentioned in the preamble of the constitution. The basic structure also includes Part III of the Constitution which includes the fundamental rights. The Court also held that though the UDHR is not legally binding, the way the fundamental rights are drafted by the constituent assembly shows how India understood the nature of human rights. The Court further held that the declaration describes some rights as inalienable.
ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla (1976)
- The president of India declared a national emergency through a presidential order under Article 352 of the Constitution citing threat to security of India due to internal disturbances.
- The presidential order led to the suspension of fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. Simultaneously, the court proceedings with regard to the application of Article 14, 21 and 22 of the Constitution were also subject to suspension.
- The declaration of emergency was followed by arbitrary detention of various politicians and others.
- As a result of the presidential order, the lower courts suspended the proceedings dealing with the application of rights under Articles 14, 21, and 22 of the Constitution. But the decision of a few courts was not in favour of the government, and the government appealed such decisions before the Supreme Court.
Whether or not the fundamental rights can be suspended during an emergency.
Hon’ble Justice Khanna, the dissenting judge in this case, while interpreting the presidential order under Article 359(1), held that the interpretation of the presidential order, since it affects the fundamental rights or human rights, should be in conformity with the international customary law. Justice Khanna stressed upon Article 8 and 9 of the UDHR which provide for the enforcement of fundamental rights and protection from arbitrary detention. He observed that the Court should interpret the presidential order under Article 359(1) in a manner which would bring it conflict with Article 8 and 9 of the UDHR. He therefore held that the presidential order should not be construed to permit arbitrary detention or suspension of any remedy for the enforcement of fundamental rights.
Kishore Chand v. State of Himachal Pradesh (1991)
- In the present case, the appellant, along with two other accused, was charged with offences under Section 302 and 201 r/w Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for murder and concealing the dead body of the victim.
- The Sessions Court convicted all three accused for the alleged crime and sentenced them to life imprisonment for offence under Section 302 and a rigorous imprisonment of 2 years for offence under Section 201 of the Penal Code.
- The High Court, on appeal, acquitted accused 2 and 3 for offence under Section 302 and confirmed the conviction and sentence of the accused.
- Therefore, the appellant filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.
Whether the prosecution proved the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
The Supreme Court, while acquitting the appellant, held that the police failed to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt and that there was fabrication of evidence by the investigating officer. The Court also held that the investigating officer also violated the fundamental right to personal liberty of the accused by framing them for offences punishable with capital punishment. The Court further observed that, though investigating heinous crimes is a difficult task since such crimes are committed with great secrecy, it is necessary to consider the precious fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 3 of the UDHR and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Court also invoked the right to defend guaranteed under Article 10 of the universal declaration and held that assigning an experienced defence counsel to the accused is an important aspect of a fair trial and the inbuilt right to life and liberty as guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.
Chairman, Railway Board & Ors. v. Mrs. Chandrima Das
& Ors. (2000)
- In the present case, a few railway employees committed rape of a woman, who was a Bangladeshi national, at the ‘Rail Yatri Niwas’, Howrah railway station.
- Mrs. Chandrima Das, an advocate, filed a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution before the Calcutta High Court claiming compensation for the victim. The High Court awarded a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to the victim, which was to be paid by the railway board since the offence was committed by the railway employees on the station premises.
- The railway board filed an appeal before the Supreme Court contending that it would not be liable to pay the compensation since the victim was a foreigner and not an Indian national. The board also contended that the offence was an individual act of persons, and hence it would not be liable to pay compensation for the acts of concerned individuals. The board had further contended that compensation could not be awarded since the petitioner was not the victim herself.
Whether the railway board is liable to pay the compensation.
The Court dismissed the appeal and held the railway board and the central government vicariously liable. The Court, while upholding the compensation awarded to the victim, discussed the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court held that fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution are in consonance with the rights set out in the UDHR. Therefore the meaning of the term ‘life’ under Article 3 of the Constitution has to have the same meaning under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court held that the meaning of the term life under Article 21 of the Constitution cannot be narrowed down. Though the fundamental rights are available to the citizens of the nation, a few of them are available to any person, be it a citizen or a foreigner.
Thalappalam Service Co-operative Bank Ltd. & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors. (2013)
- In the present case, a person named Sunil Kumar filed an RTI application seeking information about some members of a co-operative society.
- The Kerala State government issued a circular stating that all the co-operative societies registered under the Kerala Co-operative Societies Act, 1969 fall within the definition of ‘Public Authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005 as a result of it being obligatory to provide the information sought by any citizen under the RTI Act.
- The co-operative society filed a writ petition before the Kerala High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution challenging the circular. The Court upheld the circular.
- After a series of appeals that involved overturning and upholding decision of the Kerala High Court, the present appeal is filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Whether the Co-operative societies fall within the definition of ‘Public Authority’ under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
The Court in this case answered the issue negatively, holding that the co-operative societies do not fall under the definition of public authority. The Court held that the furnishing personal information of an individual that has no public interest would be a violation of the individual’s right to privacy, which has been recognised as a basic human right under Article 12 of the UDHR and also as an implied right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Court in this case also observed that the right to information is also a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, though it is not explicitly mentioned. It further noted that Article 19 of the universal declaration also recognises right to information as a fundamental human right.
K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. (2017)
- The government launched AADHAR, which was made mandatory for availing certain schemes.
- An individual was required to provide biometric data while signing up for AADHAR.
- The petitioner, who is Retd. Justice, challenged the Aadhar scheme before the Supreme Court, contending that it violates the right to privacy of an individual .
Whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right and a constitutionally protected value.
The Supreme Court in this case held that the right to privacy is an essential part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court observed that the right to privacy is recognised as an international human right by Article 12 of the UDHR to which India is also a signatory. The Court therefore observed that recognition of privacy as a fundamental constitutional value is part of India’s commitment to global human rights, as Article 51 of the Constitution requires the state to respect international law and treaty obligations. The Court further held that the importance of the right to privacy cannot be diluted.
In a world where human rights enforcement is still a challenge in both developed and developing countries, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) serves as a lighthouse for the international community on the standards that should be set for the protection and promotion of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights marked the beginning of a new era of hope for respect for all people’s inherent equality and dignity. It paved the way for the drafting of international human rights treaties and the formation of several human rights organisations. It gave greater legitimacy to the subject of human rights around the world, putting it firmly on the agendas of both national governments and the international community.
Despite these great achievements, the last seventy-three years have also shown that, in the absence of political will and resources, complete respect for human rights remains a pledge on paper. Even in recent scenarios, the fight against crime and terrorism has also put a strain on fundamental rights.
So governments today must show the same degree of vision, courage, and commitment that led the United Nations to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seventy-three years ago.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the name of the United Nations first human rights declaration?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Where was the UDHR signed?
It was adopted at the Palais de Chaillot, in Paris, France.
What is the total number of articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
The Declaration enshrines 30 Articles.
What is the significance of the UDHR today?
One of the most important documents in international human rights legislation is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It serves as the foundation for many other human rights documents, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Documents like these allow governments, advocates, and attorneys to promote human rights everywhere and take action when they are infringed.
When is Human Rights Day observed?
10 December each year.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Constitution of India, 1950.
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