Study Guide

On the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Main Idea

By Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Main Idea

    They Call Them Universal Human Rights for a Reason

    Just like the kids from Rydell High knew they'd always be together, Eleanor Roosevelt knew the whole world had to collectively go forward with a plan to protect the rights of all humans.

    Okay, so Roosevelt was a little more sophisticated than Sandy and Danny. No surprise there.

    In order for it to stick, the final product needed to reflect basic ideas and freedoms for all people who lived under all types of governments, and while there were some disagreements—Soviet Union, we're looking at you—overall, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did just that.

    It was a significant moment in history, and while the document wasn't going to fix all problems, everyone acknowledging they were together on it (like dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-be doo) was a great start.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why do you think Eleanor Roosevelt spent the first half of her speech discussing the various issues with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What was she trying to accomplish?
    2. What do you know about the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the Bill of Rights? Why were they so significant? Why does Roosevelt compare the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to those documents?
    3. Where do you see issues related to human rights in our society? In your community?
    4. In her speech, Roosevelt thanks President Harry Truman and Secretary George Marshall. How did they contribute to discussions and policies related to human rights?

    Chew on This

    The Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the Bill of Rights are all significant historical documents that provided the very foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were at odds on a number of political and philosophical levels. As a result of those differences, it is unlikely the two countries would have ever agreed on the specifics of various articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • Brief Summary

    The Setup

    To quote Les Misérables, "The time is now! The day is here!"

    It's time to get our worldwide human rights housekeeping in order, and Eleanor Roosevelt is giving everyone brooms.

    The Text

    When Roosevelt delivered her speech, "On the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," she did so because the document hadn't actually been adopted yet.

    Instead, countries with different political philosophies were arguing over proposed changes to various articles—which they'd already argued over. Multiple times. And Roosevelt had had enough.

    The delegation had a responsibility to approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because of what it was trying to accomplish—for the first time in history, 58 different nations had found some common ground when it came to the complex field of human rights.

    No one was going to get everything they wanted, and it wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But having an official document, approved by so many different countries, was important to preserving peace and protecting the world from another large-scale violation of basic human rights.

    TL;DR

    "All this happened, more or less...because the delegation wouldn't just give their approval to a declaration guaranteeing basic human rights." Do you think Kurt Vonnegut would appreciate our edit?

      
  • Questions

    1. Throughout her speech, Eleanor Roosevelt outlines various articles with which the Soviets disagree. If the U.N. were to meet today to review those disagreements, do you think the Americans and the Russians would get along any better? Why or why not?
    2. Roosevelt mentions a couple of other significant documents toward the end of her speech: the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the Bill of Rights. What do all these things have in common? Why do you think she makes a point of talking about them?
    3. In line 44, Roosevelt says, "We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and the life of mankind." Do you believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lived up to the hype? Why or why not?
    4. How would "On the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" be different if Roosevelt were delivering it today? Or would it be the same? How does that make you feel about the progress we've made since 1948?
    5. How would you characterize the tone of "On the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"? Would Roosevelt's tone be different if she were giving the same speech today? Why or why not?

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