Philippe Sands at the Financial Times:
In the spring of 1945, governments came together to remake the world. Within a few years a new international legal architecture was in place, constructed on the pillars of economic liberalisation, limits on the use of force and the protection of human rights. That last idea, reflected in the UN Charter, drew on various sources including Magna Carta (1215), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) and the US Bill of Rights (1791). But its effect was truly novel, upending the convention that states could do more or less as they wished within their own borders.
It may seem remarkable today but, back in the 1930s, Germany was free under international law to mistreat its own citizens, even to kill them, because they were Jewish or communist or gay or disabled. This was the world that jurists such as Hersch Lauterpacht, author of the groundbreaking book An International Bill of the Rights of Man (1945), sought to banish. The hope that the individual might become “the ultimate unit of all law”, as Lauterpacht put it, would underpin the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaimed a non-binding list of “inalienable rights of all members of the human family”; it would form a basis, too, for the binding European Convention on Human Rights that followed a couple of years later.