Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Drafting history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

My new book on the drafting history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be published officially by Cambridge University Press on Thursday. It actually consists of three books and 3,150 pages, and comes in a box. I hope everyone will buy the books, but they are expensive so I won't begrudge friends for not laying out the dosh, but librarians should certainly be informed about getting them for their collection. Information on the books is available here. It is possible to buy them at a significant discount using the discount code of the recent American Society of International Law conference: ME3ASIL.
Celebrating arrival of the book. Cambridge editorial director Finola O'Sullivan came down to London with an advance copy, where we met at the Parcel Yard to toast the birth of the new baby. From left: Penelope Soteriou, myself, the book, and Finola.
The three volumes contain all of the United Nations documents related to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a project that has been dear to my heart for more than 15 years. In 1998, some students made for me a set of photocopies of the relevant documents, but it was not complete and moreover it was not indexed in any way. And I lost the copies when I moved to Ireland a few years later.
There is also, on the website of the United Nations, a collection of scanned documents related to the drafting of the Declaration. But it too is not really complete, and there is no way of searching the materials by keyword or article.
For the first time, then, the relevant materials are assembled in a comprehensive and systematic way, and they are thoroughly indexed. There are also detailed annotations to assist the reader.
My belief is that this will make the drafting history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights much more accessible to scholars and researchers. And this may lead to new understandings and insights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a hugely important document whose significance has often been understated by statements like 'it's not binding'. The Declaration is one of the bases of the Universal Periodic Review undertaken by states at the Human Rights Council. It is also a source of common understandings of human rights that contributes to our appreciation of customary international law and 'fundamental principles of humanity'. These ideas are developed in the lengthy introduction to the three volumes.
Besides the bound volumes, Cambridge will issue this soon in an electronic version.

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