In 1941, President Franklin D Roosevelt gave what is now known as his Four Freedoms Speech, in which he proposed four fundamental rights that he believed the entire world should enjoy.

Those freedoms were the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Over 70 years later, on Human Rights Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon renewed the commitment to those freedoms in a modern and global context.


On 6 January 1941, the United States was not yet involved in World War 2. In fact, sentiment in America was largely isolationist. President Franklin Roosevelt, in his State of the Union address broke with that tradition, citing four freedoms that he perceived as under threat from the ongoing war, and which should be protected as global and universal. In his original speech, Roosevelt defined these freedoms as follows:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression, everywhere in the world.
  2. Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, everywhere in the world.
  3. Freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understanding that will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants; everywhere in the world.
  4. Freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour; anywhere in the world.

The president concluded that those freedoms were “no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”

On 10 December 2015, in a special message, the secretary-general said that Human Rights Day needed a more concentrated and global approach to achieve what he called “timeless principles”. Though the challenges of today’s world are different from when the principles were first proposed, the values for which they stand still endure.

The four freedoms, placed in the context of our contemporary global challenges are:

  1. Freedom of expression, which is denied to millions of people and increasingly under threat. We must defend, preserve and expand democratic practices and space for civil society. That is essential for lasting stability.
  2. Freedom of worship. Around the world, terrorists have hijacked religion, betraying its spirit by killing in its name. Others are targeting religious minorities and exploiting fears for political gain. In response, we must promote respect for diversity based on the fundamental equality of all people and the right to freedom of religion.
  3. Freedom from want is still a relevant challenge. World leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the aim of ending poverty and enabling all people to live in dignity on a peaceful, healthy planet. Now we must do everything possible to realize this vision.
  4. Freedom from fear. Millions of refugees and internally displaced people are a tragic product of the failure to fulfill this freedom. Not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their homes. They run from conflict, violence and injustice across continents and oceans, often risking their lives. In response, we must not close but open doors and guarantee the right of all to seek asylum, without any discrimination. Migrants seeking an escape from poverty and hopelessness should also enjoy their fundamental human rights.

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Author: Donald Armbrecht is a freelance writer and social media producer.

Image: Airline tycoon Richard Branson (L) and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore hold a globe in central London. REUTERS Kieran Doherty