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Why we have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

During World War II, 70 million human beings died amid unspeakable horrors of savage cruelty and this prompted the Governments of the world to decide that something had to be done to make sure such things never happened again.

Human rights have been a recurring theme in human thought since 538 BCE (2,500 years ago) when Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and proclaimed that all slaves in his empire were free and that from that day onward all people would be allowed to worship their God or Gods as they chose.

There have been many attempts to protect and secure human rights and civil liberties since then. One crucial step on the way was in 1215 when the English noblemen forced King John of England to sign the Great Charter or Magna Carta of civil liberties.

Human beings instinctively know when their rights are being violated. We all have a sense of our human dignity and we feel it when our human dignity is being violated, even in subtle ways. The human rights in the Universal Declaration are dual, both a right and a responsibility.  If I have a human right that I want you to respect, then you have the same right which I should respect also.

The Preamble, or Introduction to the Universal Declaration, introduces the Declaration by making these points.

Respect for Human Dignity 
Ignoring the rights of human beings has caused acts of hatred that have shocked and saddened the people of the world, and we all want to live in a world where people can speak freely what they believe, and where no one is poor or afraid.

Respect for the equal importance of every human being is the only way the world will have freedom, justice and peace.

Legal protection of rights
It is important that the laws should protect all people, so that no one is forced to rebel against cruelty.

Understanding human rights
All member countries of the United Nations have promised to work together to respect human rights and freedoms. All countries need to have the same understanding of these human rights and freedoms.

Teaching and education
This Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be understood, remembered and followed, always and forever by the people, societies and governments of the world. They should all teach respect for these rights and freedoms. They should do everything possible to ensure the rights are honoured by all the countries of the United Nations and by all the people living in these countries. This means human rights should be taught in all schools everywhere.

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