Human Rights

In 1948, UN members approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It stated that every person is entitled to basic rights, including “life, liberty and security of person.” It called for freedom from slavery, torture, or discrimination along with freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” It further recognized the right to work, to receive an education, and to maintain an adequate standard of living.

During the Cold War, 35 nations from the Western world and the Soviet bloc signed the Helsinki Accords that guaranteed such basic rights as freedom of speech, religion, and the press as well as the rights to a fair trial, to earn a living, and to live in safety. Despite such agreements, human rights abuses occur daily around the world. They range from arbitrary arrest to torture and slavery.

World Community Confronts Abuses

Organizations around the world work to protect human rights and end abuses. They include governments and international organizations like the UN. In the 1980s, for example, many nations used economic sanctions to press South Africa to end apartheid.

Photo of older woman holding a large piece of paper titled the universal declaration of human rights.

In 1946, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became head of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and the only woman to help draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Citizen groups often take the lead in highlighting abuses. NGOs monitor the actions of governments and pressure them to defend human rights. Human rights groups report on violations covering a range of issues such as attacks on migrant workers or unsafe working conditions in factories. They have reported on attacks against indigenous people by developers who want their lands, Chinese abuses against Tibetan Buddhists, and discrimination against Roma people in some Eastern European countries. North Korea has the world's worst human rights record.

The Struggle for Women's Rights

The UN Charter supported “equal rights for men and women.” A global women's movement has addressed conditions for women worldwide.

By 1950, women had won the right to vote in most western nations, as well as in Japan, China, Brazil, and other countries. At independence, most African nations guaranteed women the right to vote. Women have headed elected governments in such nations as Argentina, Brazil, Britain, Germany, Israel, India, Liberia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

Still, a UN report noted that while women represent half of the world's people, “they perform nearly two thirds of all working hours, receive only one tenth of the world's income, and own less than one percent of world property.” Women in many countries are subject to violence.

Photo of a woman in hijab on a mobile phone pointing to computer monitor.

In Saudi Arabia, many women are highly educated but struggle to find jobs. By law, men and women may not work together. Women must have separate offices, entrances, and security guards.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments