Lesson 6

Legacy, Judgment, and Memory


What are the enduring legacies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? The activities below provide a framework for students to evaluate the impact of the UDHR.

This lesson is part of Facing History and Ourselves Universal Deceleration of Human Rights collection and part of a series of lessons about the declaration. Use this lesson at the end of a study of the UDHR to engage students in a conversation about what the UDHR has accomplished since it was passed.


What are the Legacies of the UDHR?

How should we evaluate the effectiveness of the UDHR? John Humphries, the first Canadian Representative to the UN Committee on Human Rights and author of an early draft of the UDHR explains:

The final judgment of history will be determined by the impact which the Declaration has and will have on the actual conduct of states and of individual men and women everywhere. There is unfortunately little reason for thinking that human rights...are better respected now that they were before 1948. But while the gap between commitment and performance may still be wide, governments are now formally committed to respect and observe human rights. And the international community now possesses "a common standard of achievement" by reference to which the conduct of these governments can be and is judged.1

How should we judge the legacy and effect of the UDHR? Do you agree with Humphries? How would you describe and assess the "conduct of states and of individual men and women everywhere" towards respecting human rights over the past 60 years? To what extent has the UDHR helped? Has it hurt? If the goal is to protect the basic rights of individuals throughout the world, what else would needs to be written? What else needs to be done?


  • 1 : John P. Humphrey, Human Rights and the United Nations: A Great Adventure (New York: Transnational Publishers, 1984), 64–65.

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