As the historian, Mark Mazower, illustrates in No Enchanted Palace (2009), the origins of human rights standards are not as pristine and pure as humankind generally would like to believe. Mazower raises the question of the part played by Jan Smuts in the creation of the post-Second World War global institutions. How was it that the prime minister of a state based on racial segregation became one of the initiators of the United Nations discourse of human rights? This article seeks to gain a better understanding of what Smuts might have meant when he introduced the phrase ‘human rights’ into the Preamble of the UN Charter. In the broader historical context, it is clear that by the end of the war the phrase ‘human rights’ had come to symbolise those fundamental freedoms that set the Allies apart from their totalitarian foes. It was in this context that Smuts gave expression to the phrase ‘basic human rights’ in his initial draft of the Preamble. Smuts viewed the ideological commitment to ‘human rights’ first and foremost as a method ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ - to prevent a third world war that humanity, let alone Western Christian civilisation, could not survive. However, human rights were emphatically not synonymous with political, social or racial equality. Smuts can thus hardly be seen as a proponent of the modern understanding of human rights. Smuts’ paramount contribution lies in his insistence on the fundamental connection between human rights and peace. His great failure - made all the more apparent by his expansive vision in matters of international relations - was the fact that he did not see what is so obvious today, namely that the same underlying issues were at stake both on the international stage and in South Africa.