Many of us in Western society take for granted the freedoms that we enjoy on a daily basis. Freedoms such as speech, religion, and protection against political violence are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world there are no such promises and people are subject to violence and suppression daily. This is where the need for an international structure of the basic rights of human beings comes into play, however achieving a set of universal human rights that all can agree to has been a tumultuous process for over a century. Disagreements standing in the way of successful international human rights proliferation include clashing cultural and religious views, disagreement on who is entitled to rights, and the argument that Western values are being imposed on the rest of the globe.
The beginnings of the crusade for human rights across the globe can be traced to the era of slavery. The practice of keeping and trading slaves was commonplace in many parts of the world for centuries before the Congress of Vienna condemned it in 1815. The Committee on the International Slave Trade Issue declared that it was “inconsistent with the principles of humanity and universal morality.” Other nations began to follow suit, however many continued trafficking slaves including the United States who would not abolish slavery for another fifty years. In 1926, the first international convention condemning slavery was drafted by the League of Nations and was signed by 36 countries at the Geneva Conference. The aftermath of slavery in the United States and other parts of the world leave a legacy of prejudices and racial inequality for decades after its abolition. However, it would also open many people’s eyes to the crimes and atrocities that had occurred across the globe, and would lay many of the conceptual frameworks for future human rights law.
Nearly twenty years after the Geneva Conference on January 6, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt would deliver his “Four Freedoms” speech that would breathe life into the international rights movement. The President declared that there are four essential human freedoms that should be able to be exercised no matter where in the world a person is: “the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.” The speech was given towards the end of World War Two and was one of the first formal declarations in support of international human rights given in the United States.
The cruelty of World War Two and the Holocaust changed the viewpoints of many people worldwide and “the notion of peoples and individuals do not count came to an end.” Governments across the globe saw the need for an international mediating body that would ensure that such heinous acts would not be allowed to reoccur. Thus, the United Nations replaced the League of Nations in 1945 with a revised mission to “promote and protect respect for human...