History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Today is International Human Rights Day which marks the 70th  anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The creation of the document was a huge milestone that proclaimed the rights that every human being has, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The Document was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10th December 1948 as a result of the horrific experiences of World War 2. The international community vowed to never again allow such atrocities to happen again and so they began to outline the rights of every individual, anywhere in the world.

The Commission on Human Rights was made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the UDHR drafting committee and with her was René Cassin of France (who created the first draft of the Declaration), the CommitteeRapporteur Charles Malik of Lebanon, Vice-Chairman Peng Chung Chang of China, and John Humphrey of Canada (the Director of the UN’s Human Rights Division, who prepared the Declaration’s blueprint).

Translation of the UDHR

The entire UDHR was composed in less than two years. During a time when the world was divided into East and West, agreeing on what should make up the foundations of the document proved to be a colossal task. A decade ago, the UDHR was awarded a certificate from the Guinness Book of Records as the document was available in 298 languages and dialects. Since then, the UDHR has been translated into more than 500 languages, from Abkhaz to Zulu, making it the most translated document in the World. The document isn’t only translated into languages used by millions but also ones used by only a dozen or so native speakers, such as Pipil which is a dialect spoken in El Salvador and Honduras where only 20 speakers were counted in 1987.

It seems that new translations of the document keep being submitted. In 2015, a researcher at The Australian NationalUniversity translated the UDHR in the central-Australian language of Pintupi-Luritja, which marked the first time the World’s most translated document was made available in an Aboriginal language. This translation took more than 2 years and involved working closely with Pintupi-Luritja translators and stakeholder groups. Dr Sarah Holcombe, Project Manager of this translation project, said: “Very few Anangu people (Pintupi-Luritja speakers) had heard of universal human rights.” As the UNHR is about inclusion and developing a global awareness of human rights Holcombe declares “Anangu have a right to know this document exists. I want it to offer people possibilities. It was meant to be an educational document after all.”

As we celebrate the UDHR this Human Rights Day, it is clear that translation has a vital role in promoting positive global messages and inclusivity. We wonder how many more languages will the UDHR be translated into, as there are over 7,000 languages and dialects worldwide today!

If you need support in promoting positive global messages for your organisation then get in touch and see how our translation and language services can help you.