The Formalization of Human Rights and Contemporary Human Rights Doctrines
It can be rightly argued that the largest transformations in the formalization of human rights took place after World Wars I and II. Between World War I and World War II, wherein the “savage treatment of individuals and groups,” once again predominantly in the West led to calls for more rights for more people. In particular, there was concern for minority groups in Central and Eastern Europe. This is part of what led to the Covenant of the League of Nations. In fact, in 1929, an international private body called the Institute of International Law adopted the non-binding Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The horrors of over fifty million people dying in the second “world war”—rooted once again in Europe—led many to the conclusion that something had to be done. After the failure of the earlier League of Nations, the United Nations, which still exists today, was created. The United Nations was created via a treaty that emphasized “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” This international body with member states spanning the entire world was the first organization of its kind that could seriously discuss the question of “universal” human rights, spreading beyond nation states to each individual of every state. It took on this task very early in its history, drawing up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by 1948.

A short history of the drafting of this document is definitely called for here. The original drafting of the UDHR was prepared under by a commission spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the late President Franklin Roosevelt.This commission had eighteen members from various parts of the world, including Australia, Belgium, Byelorussia, Chile, China, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Lebanon, Panama, the Philippines, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, the USSR, and Yugoslavia. In the formulation process, a questionnaire had been distributed enquiring into the rights traditions of various cultures, including the Chinese, Islamic and Hindu cultures. After receiving a number of responses from throughout the world, the commission felt that they had enough of  a consensus concerning primary human rights to move forward.

For a year and a half work continued on the final preparation of the document. Along with Mrs. Roosevelt, the final formulating committee consisted of commission co-chairman Chinese philosopher Pen-Chung Chang, Lebanese existentialist philosopher Charles Malik and French legal scholar Rene Cassin. Hence, it can definitely be argued that a number of broad perspectives were actually involved in the original drafting of the document.

Even at that early stage, it was clear that the drafting of a universal set of rights that would span the entire world with equal respect and application was not that easy of a task—and if simply the drafting were problematic, there is no question that the application would be even more so problematic.

The following passage demonstrates some of the tensions that occurred, in particular between the “Socialist Eastern bloc” and the “Western” representatives:
Illustrative of such intrinsic ideological and philosophical differences was the first major argument during the first session of the human rights commission, in which the definition of human nature was discussed. Malik’s provocative questions—“Is man merely a social being? Is he merely an animal? Is he merely an economic being?”—generated a heated debate between advocates of individual and collective rights. Warning against the danger of collectivism that ultimately absorbed “the human person in his individuality and ultimately inviolability,” Malik asserted the centrality of a person’s mind and consciousness, the sanctity of individual property rights, and individual protection against religious, state, and other forms of external coercion. His position prompted reactions from communist representatives like Yugoslav Vladislav Ribnikar (1900-1955) and the Russian representative Valentin Tepliakov, In the words of Ribnikar, “ITlhe psychology of individualism has been used by the ruling class in most countries to preserve its own privileges; a modern declaration of rights should not only consider the rights favored by the ruling class.” How can one understand individual rights and obligations apart from those of one’s own community, asked Tepliakov.

The Soviet representatives, unsurprisingly, gave priority to social and economic rights and equivalent civic duties, while American representatives favored political and civil rights. Central to this controversy was a face-off between proponents of central planning and advocates of programs that provided some room for the “invisible hand” to operate.

This unleashed tempestuous accusations on each side; for instance, in response to American accusations of civil and political human rights abuses in the Soviet republic, Soviet delegates would point out that aside from making “slanderous allegations,” the United States was “hypocritically” maintaining segregation in its own country, depriving Southern blacks of their fundamental civil, political, and economic rights.

Note that some of the problems highlighted in the above passage have yet to be resolved and the same kinds of accusations are continually (and rightfully) cast today.

Eventually, when it came to adopting the declaration, the Soviet bloc abstained and the declaration was “adopted.”The fact that an entire section of countries abstained from voting on this declaration is rarely explicitly mentioned by those who support human rights today and argue that it must be considered universal. Similarly, the make-up of the UN at that time is also rarely discussed.

Ishay provides some of the details of the final passing:
When this important, albeit non-binding, document was put to a vote, the UN had only fifty-eight member states. Fifty ratified the declaration,while Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ukraine, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia abstained. Those countries worried that this document, predominantly “individualist” in its selected category of rights, would challenge the sanctity of domestic jurisdiction guaranteed by the legally binding UN charter. These fears proved warranted, as state practice, and regular invocations of the declaration over time, turned the document into respected customary international law. More importantly, human rights commissioners knew that the declaration was but a first step toward the development of a more specific legally binding covenant of human rights.

It would be years later before any covenants of full legal force would be approved by the UN. These two documents were the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  These were adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966 and were to enter into full force and effect in 1976. These two covenants along the UDHR constitute the International Bill of Rights.

It is important to highlight another aspect of the debate that occurred during that time that still has great ramifications today. There are different “types” of rights that are recognized in these various documents. They are usually described as civil and political rights as one category and economic and social rights as another.  The West, under the leadership of the United States and with its ultimate belief in free market capitalism, has always been reluctant to recognize the economic and social rights. In fact, the United States has clearly stated that the economic, social and cultural rights are merely “societal goals” rather than “human rights.”  (This rather selective way of looking at human rights shall be commented upon later when discussing Islam’s compatibility with “human rights.”)