United Nations

The United Nations and Human Rights

Shortly after World War II, representatives from forty-six nations met in San Francisco to negotiate the terms of a legally binding charter upon which to base the United Nations. The United Nations Charter tells us that the international organization which these countries designed has four purposes, one of which is “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” Since its inception in 1945, the United Nations has worked to protect and promote human rights throughout the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations and was adopted (without dissent) by the UN’s General Assembly on December 10, 1948. As the Declaration’s 50th anniversary approaches, there are several areas of the United Nations that may be of particular interest to groups concerned with furthering awareness of and commitment to the Declaration. Several of these UN bodies, programs and initiatives are listed below:

50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 1997, Mary Robinson emphasizes the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a message from her office along with more than fifty ideas as to how the 50th anniversary can be commemorated on the local, national and international level. A calendar of select international events and activities leading up to the 50th anniversary is also available.

High Commissioner for Human Rights
The High Commissioner for Human Rights post was created in 1993 at the Second World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. This site offers information regarding the post and its mandate, the human rights program within the United Nations, international human rights documents and instruments, conferences, UN publications, a calendar of events and human rights related press releases from the United Nations.

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by Security Council Resolution 827 on May 25, 1993 to bring alledged war criminals from the former Yugoslavia to justice. This site is a complete and current reference to the tribunal’s work with regard to indictions, proceedings and sentencing of convicted criminals.

Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court
The recent conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia have impelled the United Nations to establish an International Criminal Court. The function of this permanent, independent court would include prosecuting individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This site overviews the progress of the Preparatory Committee working to finalize a statute for the ICC by June of 1998.

Division for the Advancement of Women
The UN Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) advocates gender equality, taking its base from the UN Charter and from objectives set forth in the Platform for Action adopted by the Forth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995. Resources include news, information on publications, an outline of the Beijing Platform for Action and up-coming activities the objectives adopted in Beijing.

International Labor Organization
The International Labor Organization (ILO) was established after World War I to set standards regarding worker safety, equal pay for equal work and the elimination of employment discrimination. This site gives a general overview of the framework of the ILO and its current agenda for human rights and labor.

United Nations
Available in English, French, and Spanish, the UN’s homepage allows visitors to investigate the main organs of the United Nations, to review their respective goals, and to examine current issues and challenges facing the organization. Information available on the site includes UN documents, UN reform, news briefs and various programatic activities throughout the world.