The United Nations document inspired several successful movements. However, its implementation still meets with shortcomings and challenges. And Taiwan is a special case.

by Hans Noot *

*A paper presented at the webinar “Human Rights, FoRB, and the Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on December 10, 2023, United Nations Human Rights Day.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on December 13th, 2023.

Civil rights march in Washington in 1963, photo by Rowland Sherman. Credits.
Civil rights march in Washington in 1963, photo by Rowland Sherman. Credits.

Commemorating the adoption of the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, 75 years ago today, gives us a chance to take stock of its effect worldwide. Over the years, this landmark document has played a crucial role in shaping the global landscape, influencing legal frameworks, fostering international cooperation, and promoting a culture of respect for human rights.

I. Legal Framework and International Standards

The UN Charter of Human Rights serves as the cornerstone of international human rights law, providing a universal set of principles and standards. Its influence is most apparent in the adoption of various treaties and conventions, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the European Convention of Human Rights drafted in 1950. These instruments, rooted in the principles of the UN Charter, have become essential tools for states in shaping their domestic legislation and legal frameworks.

II. Promotion of a Global Culture of Human Rights

The Charter’s emphasis on education and awareness has contributed to the development of a global culture of human rights. Through educational programs, advocacy campaigns, and grassroots initiatives, the principles enshrined in the Charter have become ingrained in the collective consciousness of societies worldwide. This cultural shift has led to increased accountability and pressure on governments to align their policies with international human rights standards. It must be said, however, that the general population knows little of its contents, and cares even less, until they are confronted with human rights abuse.

III. The use of the UN declaration

Though the principle of human rights has ancient historical roots, with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it has become an integral component of international diplomacy and conflict resolution. It provides a common language and a shared moral foundation that nations can leverage in diplomatic efforts. Human rights considerations often play a central role in trade negotiations, peacekeeping missions, and efforts to prevent or address humanitarian crises. The Charter’s principles act as a compass guiding nations toward more just and equitable solutions in the face of complex global challenges.

It has served as a catalyst for numerous social movements advocating for human rights across the globe. Civil rights movements, women’s rights movements, LGBTQ+ rights movements, and many others have drawn inspiration from the principles enshrined in the Declaration. Activists leverage these universal rights as a powerful tool in their campaigns for justice, equality, and the protection of vulnerable populations.

United Nations stamp commemorating the 4th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. Credits.
United Nations stamp commemorating the 4th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. Credits.

IV. Shortcomings and Challenges

Despite its undeniable positive impact, the UN Charter faces ongoing challenges. As we see the world’s conflicts, the number of legal human rights cases, the number of NGO’s worldwide that deal with human rights abuse, much needs to be done. One of the primary challenges faced by the European Court of Human Rights has been the backlog of cases, leading to delays in the resolution of disputes. The sheer volume of cases has strained the Court’s resources, and as a result, litigants often face lengthy waiting periods before their cases are heard.

As we look to the future, the UN Charter’s principles must continue to evolve to address emerging issues, such as technological advancements, climate change, and evolving notions of equality. Let me name some elements of current challenges to the UN Charter:

-Outdated Language and Concepts

Some argue that the language and concepts used in the Charter are outdated and do not adequately address contemporary human rights challenges, such as those posed by technological advancements, climate change, and evolving notions of identity and gender.

-Cultural Relativism

Critics have pointed out that the universality of human rights principles outlined in the Charter faces resistance from some countries that argue for cultural relativism. This perspective asserts that different cultures may have distinct values and norms, and therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to human rights might not be suitable. This debate has led to challenges in implementing certain provisions of the Charter in diverse cultural contexts.

-Security Council’s Role

The Security Council’s role in maintaining international peace and security can sometimes overshadow its responsibility to address human rights violations. The Council’s primary focus on political and security concerns may lead to a neglect of human rights issues in favor of geopolitical considerations.

The Security Council in session in 2022. Credits.
The Security Council in session in 2022. Credits.

-Lack of Enforcement Mechanisms

While the Charter articulates fundamental human rights principles, it lacks robust enforcement mechanisms. The UN can issue resolutions and condemnations, but it often relies on member states to voluntarily comply with human rights standards. This dependence on state cooperation can actually even hinder effective action, particularly when states are unwilling to address their human rights shortcomings.

-Selective Enforcement

One of the primary criticisms of the UN Charter of Human Rights is the inconsistent enforcement of its principles. Some argue that powerful nations often escape accountability for human rights violations due to geopolitical considerations. The Security Council, with its veto power held by certain influential members, can hinder effective action against violations committed by its own members or their allies.

-Limited Protections for Vulnerable Groups

Despite progress, certain vulnerable populations, such as refugees, migrants, and stateless individuals, continue to face significant challenges. The Charter’s effectiveness in protecting these groups from discrimination, violence, and displacement has been questioned, highlighting the need for more comprehensive frameworks specifically addressing their unique circumstances.

-Limited Economic and Social Rights

The Charter predominantly focuses on civil and political rights, and its treatment of economic, social, and cultural rights has been criticized for being less comprehensive. Issues such as poverty, access to education, and healthcare are crucial components of human rights, yet the Charter’s efficacy in addressing these issues has been questioned.

-Taiwan Human Rights

And lastly, among the shortcomings of the UN Charter of Human Rights, there is the fact that for well-known political reasons Taiwan is, and still cannot be a member, thus excluding 24 million Taiwanese from the UN mechanisms implementing the Universal Declaration.

Taiwan did sign the two conventions in 1967, but the rest of the process ran up against various obstacles and has taken 42 years to complete. Then, in 2009, Taiwan unilaterally incorporated the Two Covenants into its domestic law, namely, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Tai Ji Men protests in Taiwan.
Tai Ji Men protests in Taiwan.

At the same time, whilst, generally speaking, Taiwan does not have the worst human rights track record globally, the fact that after almost twenty-seven years the Tai Ji Men case still has not been solved, with no end in sight, is remarkable and disturbing, to say the least.


Since its adoption, the United Nations Charter of Human Rights has played a transformative role in shaping the global discourse on human rights. From influencing legal frameworks to fostering a global culture of respect and empowerment, its impact is profound and far-reaching. As the international community grapples with contemporary challenges, the principles embedded in the Charter remain essential guides for creating a more just, equitable, and rights-respecting world. And yet, it is clear that this legal framework by itself is not enough to tackle the increase of human rights abuse.