The Debate about the Role of the Holocaust in the Post-war Human Rights Revival

Antoon de Baets*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The debate I discuss here revolves around the question whether the Holocaust played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. The widely shared assumption is that it did indeed. Since 2010, however, some have doubted this view. Who is right in this debate? I try to throw fresh light on it, using new sources and re-evaluating old arguments to approach three questions: what did the drafters of these early human rights instruments know about the Holocaust in 1946–48? What traces of the Holocaust can be found in the travaux préparatoires of these instruments? And, who spoke about the Holocaust during the final debates? I argue that it is not because the term “Holocaust” was not used in 1946–48, that the realities behind it were absent in the minds of the drafters. The “orthodox” defenders of the thesis have, I find, the better view. I also reflect on another aspect: in 2012 I briefly discussed this debate for the first time without knowledge of the new sources; I compare my approach then with the present one where I could benefit from them. Although the results are similar, they also invite more modesty when evaluating debates about history.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)157-186
Number of pages30
JournalPráticas da História: Journal on Theory, Historiography and Uses of the Past
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 14-Feb-2022


  • Debates about history
  • `Genocide Convention
  • Holocaust
  • Travaux préparatoires
  • United Nations General Assembly
  • United Nations War Crimes Commission
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights


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