The legal status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (on the 70th anniversary of its adoption)

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Author: Aleksei Ispolinov

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2018-4-100-107

Keywords: custom; Всеобщая декларация прав человека; обязательность; региональные системы защиты прав человека


This article considers the highly provocative and still unresolved issue of the current legal force of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, which was adopted by a resolution of the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The forthcoming 70th anniversary of the Declaration provides a good reason to contemplate the truly unpredictable transformation of certain international treaties and instruments in the years after their adoption by the states and how a modern understanding of such documents might differ from the intentions and expectation of their founding fathers. As shown in the brief decryption of the drafting history of the declaration, the authors of the Declaration had to take into account the political environment of world politics in the second half of the 1940s and were limited by their intention to secure the maximum number of votes in favor of adopting the Declaration. This article argues that the character of the Declaration and the Declaration’s absence of binding force had been decisive factors in the adoption of the Resolution by an absolute majority of votes of UN members, with no member-states voting against the Declaration’s adoption. Considering the views of some commentators that the Declaration as a whole became a sort of compendium of international customary law rules, the article argues that these views could not be supported either by subsequent practice of the UN members-states or by case law of the domestic courts of those countries where the courts are entitled to apply customary norms of international law instead of applicable domestic rules in settling disputes. The practice of US courts in this respect is very persuasive, especially after the US Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Sosa v Alvarez-Machain, where the Court proclaimed that the Declaration lacks any binding force due to the fact the it was adopted by a Resolution of the UN General Assembly. The article concludes by saying that the Declaration currently faces several challenges, including the existence of a significantly more efficient regional system of human rights protection.

About the author: Alexei Ispolinov – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law, Head of International Law Department, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Ispolinov A. (2018) Pravovoy status Vseobshchey deklaratsii prav cheloveka (k 70-letiyu prinyatiya) [The legal status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (on the 70th anniversary of its adoption)]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.27, no.4, pp.100–107. (In Russian).


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