United Nations Charter

The Sociological Argument in Human Rights Doctrine

Human rights have long been thought of as ‘natural and sacred rights’ from a universalist ‘everywhere and always’ perspective. But relativism arose right from the time of the French Revolution with Burke and Joseph de Maistre contesting this vision of ‘man’ as abstract as opposed to situated. More recently, the sociological approach with the Marxist perspective has set formal rights against real freedoms. Contemporary law has taken all these challenges into account and developed the international corpus of human rights by emphasising effective rights for everyone – ‘without distinction of race, sex, language or religion’ as underscored in Article 1 of the United Nations Charter – rights that are accessible and adaptable to the specific needs of vulnerable groups, including through ‘positive discrimination’. Far from undermining the legal idealism and universality of human rights, the sociological argument enhances it with a permanent dialectic of law and fact.

The International Bill of Human Rights, coherence and complementarity?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights derives its political inspiration and its legal standing from the United Nations Charter. It gave hard substance to the general commitment to cooperate to bring about “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” pursuant to article 55 (c) of the UN Charter. For want of time, the participants at the San Francisco Conference had been unable to draw up a list of human rights and so confined themselves to the incantatory references to human rights that form a sort of leitmotiv of the Charter in answer to the hopes and expectations of NGOs, especially US associations and trade unions.However, in his closing speech to the San Francisco Conference, President Truman voiced the wish that the UN would adopt ‘an international bill of rights acceptable to all the nations involved’. Actually, this mission was to be the first mandate given to the new Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights, the creation of which was expressly provided for by UN Charter article 68. ECOSOC resolution E/RES/1946/9 (II) of 4 June 1946 setting up the Commission on Human Rights asked it to draw up an “international bill of rights” (para. 7) on the basis of the early work of the “nuclear commission” which had been tasked with preparing the ground.