Given how wide-ranging the statement of human rights is-from basic civil and democratic political freedoms to rights of education, employment, health- it is not surprising that in an effort to make social progress through subsequent human rights work, the nature and extent of the rights' framework has become extremely complex, not to say controversial. The most fundamental critique of the UN era of human rights is in terms of practical rather than theoretical terms. Human rights in the UN system imply universality. Yet human values are by their nature contested, and history reveals a tragically imperfect world where inequalities abound and justice is too often absent. At the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, expressions were made of the dismay and condemnation of the human rights' violations that continue to be implemented in certain parts of the world. It is this most fundamental sense of inequality in the geographical expressions of human rights' abuses that arguably presents the greatest cause of conflict the world over.
The UN today is far more representative than it was in 1948, with more than three times the number of nation states represented at the UN General Assembly. Ironically, the 1948 Universal Declaration is certainly the least democratically representative of all UN documents in human rights though remaining the most foundational. (The irony that two key signatories, Britain and France, retained at the time of the UN Declaration were exploitative vestiges of colonial empires in their overseas territories and dominions is not lost on many developing nations.) In general, this is why there are ongoing debates about whether the original 30 articles have universal status as an outline statement of moral intent, let alone as a system of detailed ethical guidance.
The United Nations has developed considerably since its foundation in 1945. So too have the structures for its maintenance and the nature and complexity of human rights. A common idea now is to see such development as "generation," with three interrelated generations of human rights: civil and political, or first-generation rights; economic, social, and cultural, or second-generation rights; and human solidarity, or third-generation rights. This crude measure recognizes that rights have evolved in modern times by a series of historical-social-political developments. The latest generation of human solidarity rights- relating to groups of individuals within a society such as women, children, minorities, or indigenous peoples-would have been refinements in thinking largely inconceivable to the writers of first-generation civil, political, and legal rights.
RELIGION, SPIRITUALITY, AND RIGHTS
The preamble to the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief restates the wider context of the charter of the UN. Notably this reiterates the "dignity and equality inherent in all human beings," international commitment on the promotion of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, "without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion," and the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief.
As with the Convention on the International Rights of Correction, the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief also emphasizes the role of such freedoms in the maintenance of a stable international order: "Considering that the disregard and infringement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or whatever belief, have brought, directly or indirectly, wars and great suffering to mankind, especially where they serve as a means of foreign interference in the internal affairs of other States and amount to kindling hatred between peoples and nations."
Positively phrased, "freedom of religion and belief should also contribute to the attainment of the goals of world peace, social justice, and friendship among peoples and to the elimination of ideologies or practices of colonialism and racial discrimination."
Yet it is not simply past ills that are the concern of the UN, for the 1981 Declaration is also concerned about "manifestations of intolerance and . . . the existence of discrimination in matters of religion or belief still in evidence in some areas of the world." The 1981 Declaration also offers a commitment to adopt "all necessary measures for the speedy elimination of such intolerance in all its forms and manifestations and to prevent and combat discrimination on the ground of religion or belief."