Study Guide

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Timeline

By United Nations Drafting Committee

Timeline

January 10th, 1920

League of Nations Formed

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.

November 10th, 1938

Kristallnacht

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.

September 1st, 1939

Germany Invades Poland

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.

August 9th, 1941

Atlantic Charter

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).

December 11th, 1941

United States Fully Enters the War

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.

January 1st, 1942

"United Nations" Coined

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.

October December 1943

Moscow and Tehran Conference

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.

April 25th, 1945

San Francisco Conference

Delegates from 50 countries gather in San Francisco and draw up the official United Nations Charter.

May 2nd, 1945

Germany Surrenders

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.

September 2nd, 1945

End of World War II

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.

October 24th, 1945

United Nations Charter Becomes Official

The U.N. is now a thing when its members officially vote to ratify the charter.

January February 1947

Commission on Human Rights Formed

The group that would draft the UDHR begins to take shape. It originally consists of Eleanor Roosevelt, Peng Chun Chang, and Charles Malik.

June 1947

First Outline of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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.

May 1948

Second Drafting Session

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…

September December 1948

Third Session, Now With the General Assembly

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.

December 10th, 1948

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Adopted

The General Assembly adopts the declaration. No countries vote against it, but seven abstain, including the Soviet Union.

December 16th, 1966

U.N. Adopts International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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.

March 1976

The International Bill of Human Rights Enters Into Force

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.

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