Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 October 2011
I would like to start my contribution by paying tribute to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on its sixtieth anniversary as the first universal instrument to incorporate economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights) as an essential component of an integral and comprehensive notion of human rights. As stated in the very preamble of the UDHR, one of the goals of the peoples of the United Nations is ‘to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’, thus explicitly linking fundamental freedoms with the promotion of socio-economic rights.
It cannot be said that in 1948 the UDHR responded to a localising paradigm, since its process of adoption was fully monopolised by nation states, particularly those that dominated the international scene after the Second World War, and did not take into consideration local realities, local needs and local ways of framing the protection of human dignity. The elaboration of the UDHR followed what can be considered as a top-down approach rather than a bottom-up approach. Basically, the seminal document of the human rights movement in the twentieth century sought to offer ‘universal legitimacy to a doctrine that is fundamentally Eurocentric [. . .] Non-western philosophies and traditions were either unrepresented or marginalised, (and) most Asian and African societies were European colonies and not participants in the making of human rights law’. Along the same lines, David Kennedy has defined the origins of the human rights movement as ‘post-enlightenment, rationalist, secular, western, modern, and capitalist’.