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In the aftermath of World War I, the victorious Allies form an international body with the goal of preventing another war.
Yeah, about that.
The League of Nations proved ineffective, in part because the United States didn't become a member. In the run-up to World War II, the league couldn't do anything to prevent dictatorial regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan from invading and conquering other countries. The idea for the League of Nations, however, was eventually an inspiration for the United Nations.
In Germany and Austria, Nazis terrorize Jews and send thousands to concentration camps. "The Night of Broken Glass" is considered the beginning of the Holocaust, when millions of Jews and other "undesirables" were systematically exterminated by the Nazi regime. Atrocities like the Holocaust were a major reason for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In its most aggressive act of conquest yet, Nazi Germany invades and easily rolls over Poland. This is considered the official start of World War II; Britain and France declared war on Germany a few days later.
The United States and the United Kingdom declare "common principles" for the betterment of the world. Among these: self-determination, peace, and—most importantly—the "destruction of the Nazi tyranny" (source).
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and a declaration of war against Japan, the U.S. declares war on Germany and Italy. If World War II were an intramural basketball game, the United States was like the guy that shows up half an hour late and scores 40 points.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt comes up with the term "United Nations" in the Declaration by United Nations, a text in which 26 Allied countries agreed to fight the Axis powers together and not make any separate peace.
The Soviet Union, U.K., U.S., and China—key members of the Allied forces—meet to discuss the formation of an international organization. These four would eventually become permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the most powerful committee and coolest clique in the whole organization.
Surrounded on two fronts—by the Soviet Union and the Western Allies—Germany faces certain defeat. After Hitler's suicide, the German army surrenders unconditionally, bringing the war in Europe to an end.
The U.S. drops two atomic bombs on Japan and the Japanese surrender, ending the war in the Pacific. With all fronts closed, World War II is over. The United States and the USSR emerge as the world's two great superpowers, and you know what that means: the Cold War is about to start.
The U.N. is now a thing when its members officially vote to ratify the charter.
The group that would draft the UDHR begins to take shape. It originally consists of Eleanor Roosevelt, Peng Chun Chang, and Charles Malik.
Canadian John P. Humphrey is the main author behind the earliest material that makes it into the UDHR. René Cassin develops the first full draft from Humphrey's outlines.
Now consisting of members from Australia, Chile, France, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, the commission meets again to revise the document, taking into consideration the comments and concerns of world governments. If you've ever had to work on the dreaded group project in school, you can only imagine what this was like…
The U.N.'s main body, the General Assembly, meets and discusses the UDHR. It holds 81 meetings and debates more than 150 different drafts. As the marathon study sessions go on, pizza boxes and empty Dunkin' Donuts cups pile up to the ceiling.
The General Assembly adopts the declaration. No countries vote against it, but seven abstain, including the Soviet Union.
The U.N. adopts the ICCPR, a document in which countries pledge to make special efforts to respect the rights of life, free speech, religion, and assembly. As of today, 169 countries have signed the document. Along with the UDHR, the ICCPR is a part of the International Bill of Human Rights.
The idea for an International Bill of Human Rights had been tossed around since the founding of the U.N. In 1976, the organization finally gets there when a multipart document consisting of the UDHR, ICCPR, and several other treaties becomes official. As a group, these documents include more binding obligations and monitoring than just the UDHR.