The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the product of much compromise, and many drafts and rewrites. The activities below will help students better understand the collaborative and iterative process that was involved in crafting the UDHR. Students will examine multiple versions of articles from the UDHR, and will compare, contrast, and analyze the different versions to gain an understanding of the motives of the drafters and the careful negotiation the resulted in the final version of the UDHR.
This lesson is part of Facing History’s work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and part of a series of lessons surrounding the declaration. Use this lesson to engage students in a conversation about collaboration and compromise.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted and approved by a large group of international representatives. In order to bring this group to agreement, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Chairman of the UN Committee on Human Rights, painstakingly facilitated a process that would reflect a shared vision from the diverse perspectives of committee members; representatives including Charles Malik of Lebanon, P. C. Chang of China, and Renee Cassin of France negotiated carefully to ensure that their values were reflected in the document and that the document could speak for all people. They repeatedly asked, "Does this reflect our interests well enough? Does it speak for others as well?"
The Preamble and 30 articles (the list of individual rights) of the UDHR were rewritten many times in the drafting process. A review of the multiple drafts shows how the understanding and articulation of the rights was negotiated over time. Examine these three versions of Article 1 and 2. What differences do you see? How did these articles evolve? What does this tell you about the priorities and goals of those who drafted the document?
The Cassin Draft
All men, being members of one family are free, possess equal dignity and rights, and shall regard each other as brothers.
The object of society is to enable all men to develop, fully and in security, their physical, mental and moral personality, without some being sacrificed for the sake of others.
June 1947 Human Rights Commission Draft
All men are brothers. Being endowed with reason and conscience, they are members of one family. They are free, and possess equal dignity and rights.
The object of society is to afford each of its members equal opportunity for the full development of his spirit, mind and body.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.