Human Rights for all

December 10 is Human Rights Day, commemorating the date the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Lake Success, New York, November 1949. (National Archives Identifier 6120927)

The United Nations was formed in 1945 to prevent the atrocities that occurred during World War II from ever happening again.

One of their primary goals was, “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

One of their first orders of business was to create a document that guaranteed these individual rights around the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt was part of the first American delegation to the United Nations.

Harry Truman’s nomination of the first American delegation to the UN General Assembly, December 19, 1945. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

She represented the United States at the UN from December 31, 1945, until December 31, 1952.

When the UN established a permanent Commission on Human Rights, they unanimously elected Roosevelt as chair. She also chaired the subcommittee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights consists of a preamble and 30 articles that outline the fundamental human rights that must be universally protected. The vote on its adoption was unanimous with eight nations abstaining.

In the United States, we have been celebrating its adoption every year since President Harry Truman first issued a proclamation in 1949 designating December 10, 1949, and December 10 of each succeeding year as United Nations Human Rights Day.

In 1950, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution inviting everyone around the world to observe December 10 of each year as Human Rights Day.

After Roosevelt died in 1962, the National Archives wanted to honor all of her work in supporting human rights.

In 1963, the National Archives observed Human Rights Day and Week with the opening of an exhibit on “Eleanor Roosevelt and Human Rights.”

Eleanor Roosevelt and Human Rights Exhibit, Case Three, December 10, 1963. (National Archives Identifier 12170776)

This exhibit explored the evolution of rights from the creation of the Bill of Rights in the United States; documented Roosevelt’s humanitarian work during World War II and later work drafting the Declaration of Human Rights; and ended with her legacy—the creation of the Eleanor Roosevelt Foundation and her burial at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, NY.

Since Truman’s first proclamation on Human Rights Day in 1949, every U.S. President has called on the country to honor universal human rights on this important day.


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