Teaching the Transformative Agenda of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
RT 103: Radical Teaching About Human Rights: Part One

How to Cite

MacNaughton, G., & Frey, D. (2015). Teaching the Transformative Agenda of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Radical Teacher, 103, 17–25. https://doi.org/10.5195/rt.2015.232


Neoliberalism has dominated the world for over three decades and now permeates our laws, policies and practices at the international, national and local levels. The International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the European Union, the United States and China all support trade liberalization, privatization of public services and the primacy of markets over people. Indeed, neoliberalism has become so ingrained that it has become invisible and many of us no longer notice when new agendas conflict with international human rights laws and principles to which almost all countries in the world have committed themselves. Adopted in 1948, immediately after World War II, to implement one of the four goals of the new United Nations Organization, the norms and aspirations elaborated in the UDHR provide a framework for a radically different world than the one we have today. In this article, we revisit the content of the UDHR, beginning with the right to a social and international order in which everyone’s rights can be realized, and consider other key provisions that conflict with neoliberalism, including the rights to the benefits of science, to full employment and decent work, to progressive realization of free higher education, to nondiscrimination on the grounds of economic status and to solidarity. We also share some activities that we use in the classroom and online to make the transformative agenda of the UDHR visible to students and demonstrate how far we have strayed from the aspiration of a world in which everyone enjoys their human rights.  The article concludes that teaching a holistic vision of the UDHR in a neoliberal world is a radical human rights curriculum.



Alston, Philip, 2015. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, UN Doc A/HRC/29/31 (27 May). Available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx.

Chapman, Audrey R., 2009. “Towards an Understanding of the Right to Enjoy the Benefits of Scientific Progress and Its Application,” Journal of Human Rights 8: 1-26.

Charter of the United Nations, 1945. Available at http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/.

Dandan, Virginia, 2014. Report of the Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity, UN Doc A/HRC/26/34 (1 April). Available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G14/128/04/PDF/G1412804.pdf?OpenElement.

Eide, Asbørn, 1999. “Article 28,” in Gudmundur Alfredsson and Asbørn Eide (Eds.) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Common Standard of Achievement, 567-635, The Hague: Martinus NijHoff Publishers.

Forman, Lisa and MacNaughton, Gillian, 2015. “Moving Theory into Practice: Human Rights Impact Assessment of Intellectual Property Rights in Trade Agreements,” Journal of Human Rights Practice 7(1): 109-138.

Glendon, Mary Ann, 1999. “Knowing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” Notre Dame Law Review, 73(5): 1153-1190.

International Labour Organization (ILO), 2015. “World Employment Social Outlook: The Changing Nature of Jobs” Geneva, International Labour Office. Available at http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_368626.pdf.

MacNaughton, Gillian, 2013. “Beyond a Minimum Threshold: The Right to Social Equality,” in Lanse Minkler (Ed.) The State of Economic and Social Rights: A Global Overview, 271-305, New York: Cambridge University Press.

MacNaughton, Gillian, 2009. “Untangling Equality and Nondiscrimination to Promote the Right to Health Care for All,” Health and Human Rights Journal 11(2): 47-63. Available at http://www.hhrjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2013/07/5-MacNaughton.pdf.

Marks, Stephen, 2009. “The Past and Future of the Separation of Human Rights into Categories,” Maryland Journal of International Law 24: 209-243.

Morsink, Johannes, 1999. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting ad Intent, Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.

Neier, Aryeh, 2006. “Social and Economic Rights: A Critique,” Human Rights Brief, 13(2): 1-3. Available at http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1254&context=hrbrief.

Sepúlveda Carmona, Magdalena, 2011. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights,” UN Doc A/66/265. Available at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/EPoverty/A.66.265.pdf.

UNDP, 2010. “Policy Brief: Employment Guarantee Policies,” Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction, Issue 02 (April). Available at http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/womens-empowerment/policy-brief--employment-guarantee-policies.html.

UN Habitat, 2014. “Background Paper: World Habitat Day – Voices from the Slums.” Nairobi: United Nations Human Settlements Programme. Available at http://unhabitat.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/WHD-2014-Background-Paper.pdf.

UNICEF, 2013. “Children dying daily because of unsafe water supplies and poor sanitation and hygiene, UNICEF says,” Press Release, New York: UNICEF (22 March). Available at http://www.unicef.org/media/media_68359.html.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. Available at http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/.

World Bank, 2013. “From Double Dip Recession to Fragile Recovery: South East Europe Regular Economic Report No. 4 (18 June). Available at http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2013/06/17/000356161_20130617141957/Rendered/PDF/785050NWP0Box30ith0Albania0update0.pdf.

World Food Programme, 2015. “Hunger Statistics,” Rome: World Food Programme. Available at https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats.