50th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

10 December 1998

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.

The Universal Declaration is the source of all human rights covenants that have been adopted over the last half century. In this spirit, the State of Israel signed the international covenants for human rights and the humanitarian articles of the Helsinki Declaration, and based our struggle for the release of Soviet Jewry and the rescue of Syrian Jews upon these international norms.

Israel is a sovereign state, faced with the challenge of preserving human rights; this challenge is not easily met under the existing conditions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which still casts its shadow on relationships between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

These difficulties do not have to negatively affect Israel’s value system; the faithfulness of a society to its basic values is best tested in times of adversity. The protection of human rights in Israel is the subject of a continuing struggle that in the past years has made many advances.

In Israel’s Declaration of Independence it is written:

"… The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the holy places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

Despite the fact that Israel has no written constitution or a formal bill of rights, in the past years there has been a slow but steady revolution in the legal system, beginning in 1992, with the adoption of two basic laws, the first on Human Dignity and Liberty, the second on Freedom of Occupation. Additional draft basic laws are in various stages of preparation in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. It should be noted that while the basic laws to not form a constitution, these are not regular laws and can only be cancelled or amended by a special majority.

For years Israel has joined all the committees of the important covenants in the field of human rights and has taken upon itself the accompanying obligations, including the duty to send comprehensive national reports to the United Nations regarding the fulfillment of its obligations under the relevant covenants from both a legal and a practical standpoint.

To date, Israel has proudly submitted four reports to:

  • The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
  • The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR);
  • The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Israel has also completed its periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Committee Against Torture (CAT).

It is worthy to note the considerable contribution of the Israeli presence in the committees of the human rights covenants, in which three Israeli experts serve:

  • Dr. Carmel Shalev – Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
  • Prof. David Kretzmer – Human Rights Committee, ICCPR;
  • Ms. Judith Karp, Deputy Attorney General – Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).