The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

illustration book cover hand with dove

This book is a celebration of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Through illustration, I aimed to transform a legal document into an enjoyable little book. Also, I contributed a short essay about the Declaration at the end of the book.

I started this project when I could not find a copy of the Declaration of Human Rights in print anywhere (except as a poster). Also, I was frustrated by political developments in Australia at the time, such as the mandatory detention of asylum seekers including children, Australian citizens imprisoned without trial or charge at Guantanamo Bay, Australian officers as approving observers of torture at Abu Ghraib and the use of the Secret Service against union activists. It seemed to me that the Declaration was universally revered but rarely ever read, and I tried to think of a way to make this document more easily available and accessible.The result is this small book, which was published in association with Amnesty International on the 60th Anniversary of the Declaration’s proclamation.

illustration hands hold person with wings

The right to life, liberty and security


illustration bound hands

Freedom from slavery and servitude


illustration man with whipped back

No torture or degrading punishment


illustration court trial

The right to a fair trial


illustration footsteps

The right to freedom of movement


illustration refugee fleeing from bombing

The right to asylum from persecution


illustration couple holding hands

The right to get married


illustration head with flowers

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion


illustration people in row boat

Duties to the community


The idea that every person has dignity and value has a long history. It is part of many religions, and can be traced to philosophers from classical Greece through the Enlightenment and up to the present day. It was expressed in the American Declaration of Independence in 1766 and the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, which consider the inherent and inalienable rights of human beings.

Emerging from this tradition, the modern human rights movement was created in response to the atrocities committed during World War II, particularly the Holocaust. The United Nations were founded in 1945, and its Charter contains a number of references to human rights. Two years later, the newly established UN commission on human rights authorised a preliminary draft of an international bill of human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, a date that would later be commemorated annually as Human Rights Day. At the time, the UN had 58 Member States; most voted in favour of the Declaration. Since then, the UN has grown in size and influence, and the Declaration has gained importance around the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a treaty, and is not legally binding. However, it is the most fundamental document on human rights, and in the years since its proclamation has served as a moral compass for the world. It is the standard by which the international community measures human rights. It has also been the basis for subsequent treaties and covenants, and today forms part of the International Bill of Rights.

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