The Universal Declaration of Human Rights tried to preserve the dignity of the individual. It was discussed, drawn up, and passed by the Third Committee of the UN. The Chairman of the Third Committee was Dr Charles Malik, a seasoned politician from Lebanon. Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt was the person, entrusted with the day-to-day work of drawing up the Declaration. She worked tirelessly, and showed exemplary patience. The Cold War had just begun. She was harassed at every step of her work by the representative of Russia in the Third Committee, who was an extremely adroit and vocal person, who objected to almost every clause in the Declaration and tried to trip Mrs Roosevelt if he possibly could. As I have said she showed exemplary patience in dealing with him, she replied to every objection he made very politely, and let him have his say at length without interruptions. The question of human dignity, personal freedom, sanctity of the family life and rights of dissent were the most significant items, and on each and every one there were long discussions. Representing Pakistan, I also spoke at one such discussion:

It is because we believe in the fundamental… Rights and dignity and worth of the human person that this organization has been formed… But while there are codes and conventions by which international conduct can be judged, so far there has been no universally accepted Charter of Human Rights… The discoveries of science have brought and are bringing the world very close, and, therefore, it is imperative that there must be an accepted code of civilized behaviour… We cannot today sit in the comity of nations and behave in the accepted international manner and yet in our domestic matters (if it suits us) revert to barbaric practices and refuse to give an explanation of our conduct on the score of it being an internal matter… I realize that neither the draft declaration nor the convention is a law nor are they backed by a sanction although I hope that the nations will incorporate it in the laws and make it the corner stone of their constituencies… I hope that this declaration will mark a turning point in history as did Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence.

There were other items on the agenda of the Third Committee as well, but most of its time was taken up in discussion of the Declaration of Human Rights. It was scheduled to finish by the end of the Session. The Committee worked very hard to make this possible; despite the delaying tactics of the Russian delegate, it achieved this goal. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed at midnight on 10 December 1948 by forty-eight votes to nil, with eight abstentions.

This Declaration was made with the hope that the people of the world had now reached a state of civilization and maturity to be able to honour it. This hope has not been fulfilled. There has been continued violence and abuse of Human Rights in every part of the world. Those who get into power by objectionable and undemocratic means, try to remain in power by crushing dissent in flagrant disregard of human rights. But still there is a Declaration of Human Rights, a Charter of human freedom, and the oppressed and their champions can at least refer to it when those who having seized the reins of power try to trample on the people. The struggle between right and wrong continues. The ideas emphasized in the Declaration of Human Rights are far from being realized, but there is a goal, to which those who believe in the freedom of the human spirit can try to reach.

(From Purdah to Parliament by Shaista Ikramullah, Member Constituent Assembly of Pakistan 1947-1954)