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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 21st Century

Gordon Brown


Paul Boghossian

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1This report by the Global Citizenship Commission is the first of the Global Institute for Advanced Study’s major initiatives to be brought to fruition. It gives me great pride that the Institute’s inaugural achievement is represented by such an important document.

2The GIAS is a nascent initiative at New York University that helps support innovative and (typically) interdisciplinary scholarly work requiring collaboration on an international scale and with a sustained, multi-year focus. Conceived in conversations between (then) Vice- Chancellor Richard Foley and me, and with the crucial support of President John Sexton and Provost David McLaughlin, it was launched in 2011. All three of these leaders of NYU deserve thanks for their willingness to invest significant resources in encouraging unusual, risky, but potentially transformative work.

3When Gordon Brown approached me in 2012 with his idea to convene a commission that would study the continuing relevance to our time of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and its contribution to the development of a global ethic, it struck me both as an enormously important idea and as a perfect fit for the mission of the Global Institute. After some discussion, Gordon and I agreed that it would be best if the project were to proceed in two phases. In the first, a distinguished committee of academics – philosophers, political theorists, and human rights lawyers – would lay the intellectual groundwork for the commission’s report by providing a detailed analytical commentary on the UDHR. In the second phase, a blue ribbon commission, chaired by Gordon, would use the findings of this “Philosophers’ Committee” to develop a report that would be presented, at his request, to Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and distributed widely.

4The road to the successful completion of this report has been a long one, involving three meetings of the Philosophers’ Committee, six meetings of the Global Citizenship Commission, and countless meetings of the Commission’s Steering Committee, which I chaired. I am grateful to Professors Michael Forster and Markus Gabriel for hosting our meetings in Bonn, Germany. I want especially to thank the members of the Steering Committee, Anthony Appiah, Emma Rothschild, Robert Shrum, Jeremy Waldron, and Diane Yu, for their hard work between meetings of the full Commission that made progress at those meetings possible. Andrew Hilland and Melissa Friesen provided indispensable support.

5I am very grateful to Professor Jeremy Waldron of NYU’s Law School for accepting our invitation to lead the Philosophers’ Committee. Jeremy assembled a superb panel of scholars, and worked tirelessly in all its different phases to bring this report into existence.

6I am also immensely grateful to Gordon Brown for entrusting this important project to the GIAS, for his unflagging enthusiasm and energy for it, and, in general, for his unwavering dedication to making the world a better place.


Director, GIAS Julius Silver Professor of Philosophy NYU


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