Eleanor Roosevelt’s passion for improving human rights began early in life, when as a child, she witnessed disparities between the wealthy and poor. Feeling the unfairness of such inequality and watching her father’s commitment to helping people, Eleanor channeled those experiences into her own commitment to social responsibility. She wanted to make a difference in the world.
Her marriage to Franklin D. Roosevelt gave her a platform to make improvements. As First Lady, she used her position to advocate for marginalized and oppressed people. She took on important issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, and workers’ rights.
After her life as First Lady, Eleanor continued to work tirelessly for human rights. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman appointed her as a delegate to the newly formed United Nations. There, she became the UN Commission on Human Rights chair.
As chair, Eleanor became the driving force behind the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), an initiative to promote human dignity and prevent future human rights violations such as the atrocities that happened during World War II.
But the road to adopting the UDHR was a challenging one. Much disagreement among the member states and concerns about enforcement arose. Eleanor, however, never wavered in her belief that the UDHR was necessary, working tirelessly to ensure its adoption.
Her efforts helped lead to the UN General Assembly adopting the UDHR on December 10th, 1948. 48 of the 58 member states voted in favor. It was a historic moment and one that would have a profound impact on the world. Today, the UDHR is considered one of history’s most important human rights documents. And it has been translated into over 500 languages. And many human rights treaties and law have taken inspiration from it.
Eleanor believed that human rights were universal and applied to everyone. For her, the UDHR was a means for protecting the most vulnerable members of society. She wanted to ensure that all people had access to basic rights and freedoms.
“Eleanor Roosevelt & the UDHR” sources: Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884 – 1962. Photograph taken circa 1932. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004670795/> / “Eleanor Roosevelt cph.3b16000.” Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eleanor_Roosevelt_cph.3b16000.jpg
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