Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 October 2020
Two sentiments governed the postwar world: fear and hope. These two feelings dominated the debates that gave birth to both the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The League of Nations had failed. Leaders had expressed the desire for a world grounded in human rights but could not agree on what that meant or whether individual rights trumped the sovereign rights of nations. The UN Charter reflected these concerns, recognizing human rights but leaving their scope undefined. No precedents existed to guide the work. A committee of eighteen nations, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, accepted the unprecedented assignment of defining basic rights for all people everywhere. After consulting with noted jurists, philosophers, and social justice organizations, the committee set out to draft a document that would recognize the horrors of war and engender a commitment to peace. They envisioned a world governed more by hope than by fear. It was hard work. The debate was punctuated by escalating Cold War politics. A legally binding document seemed out of reach. All efforts turned instead to securing a declaration of human rights, which ultimately paved the way for legally binding commitments and energized a budding human rights movement.