Universal Declaration of Human Rights


In this role play, students take on the role of the major players in the drafting and ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

The instructions for students are below:  


Here is some information on how to prepare for class.

For discussion: (An hour and a half or so): Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and think about what it includes and does not include. The purpose of this discussion will be to approximate the political dialog that may have taken place in the mid 1940s over the content of "universal" human rights.

ROUND 1: DRAFTING THE UDHR(30- 45 MINUTES) First, eight of you will lead off with a discussionfrom the perspective of some of the major playerson the Human Rights Commission, the body that drafted the UDHR in the first place. Ishay makes reference to four of these individuals: Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Malik, Rene Cassin, and Peng-Chun Chang (see circa pp. 16-18). Use any of the materials from the reading, draw from what you know about their cultural backgrounds, and supplement it with outside research on specifics about these individuals if you would like.

The question this group should discuss and debate is: what "universal rights" should be included in the new Declaration, and why? Try to persuade one another, from your character's point of view, what it is important to include, and what should be jettisoned. You should come prepared with a list of rights your character views as essential to include and reason(s) why it is essential to include them. 

ROUND 2: THE STATE DELEGATIONS(30-45 MINUTES) Once the Human Rights Commission came up with a draft, state delegations had to discuss its contents, decide whether and how it should be altered, and ultimately whether to vote yes or no (or abstain). Using what you have learned so far about the philosophical orientations, religious background, and/or domestic and international history of these states, we will simulate a discussion about whether or not the Declaration should be supported. Speaking from the perspective of your country, what are the major provisions the Declaration ought to contain (or not) and why? Come prepared to make a statement about whether and why your country supports the Declaration. Why is it important, from you country's point of view, to have such a symbolic expression of universal rights? Try to persuade reluctant delegations to adopt your view of the declaration. After each country makes a brief statement of their position and reasons for that position, each delegation will have the opportunity to respond to the positions of other delegations. Then vote: yes, no, or abstain.  The countries to be included are the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India, France, China and Cuba.

Questions for general discussion: What did this exercise reveal about negotiating a set of "universal" human rights? To what extent did you feel constrained in the discussion by the cultural background of your character? To what extent were national interests in mind in this discussion? Were you willing to be persuaded to support rights you opposed or did not feel were "universal"? Why or why not? 

The essay will follow after the break. It will draw from the reading and discussions we have had so far. The best preparation would be to skim your notes, and take another look at the questions on the syllabus. It will be related to those major themes. You will be able to write for about an hour.