Article 1:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Drafting History

  1. Drafting History (1)
  2. Drafting History (2)

Although Article 1 bears a clear resemblance to Enlightenment thinking, its main inspiration was as a response to the discriminatory practices implemented by the Nazis during the Second World War. According to the article's main drafter, René Cassin, the reason that Article 1 refers to liberty, equality, and brotherhood, was because these three fundamental principles had been totally disregarded during the War. Cassin explained that the reason why "equality" had been placed as the first of the series of rights was a reaction to the fact that Nazi human rights violations had begun by asserting the inequality of men before attacking their actual liberties. (Morsink at 38)

During the drafting process, several members of the Third Committee argued that the principles of equality, liberty and brotherhood had already been manifested in the French Revolution through the slogan "liberté, equalité, fraternité." Cassin's response to this was to suggest that the War had made such an argument dated. Cassin was referring to the fact that "[w]ithin the preceding years millions of men had lost their lives, precisely because those principles had been ruthlessly flouted." Thus, he continued, it "was essential that the UN should again proclaim to mankind those principles which had come to extinction and should refute the abominable doctrine of fascism." (Morsink at 39)

The drafting history of Article 1 reveals that it went through at least five versions before a final text was agreed upon by the drafters.

Version One

All men, being members of one family are free, possess equal dignity and rights, and shall regard each others as brothers.

The first version of Article 1 was presented by the initial drafter of the Declaration, John P. Humphrey. Humphrey was of the view that philosophical statements had no place among the articles of the Declaration, and instead should be placed among the recitals of the Preamble. By tracing the evolution of the article through its various versions, and by taking into account the philosophical debates that were ultimately reflected in the final text, it becomes clear that Humphrey was not the core author of Article 1. (Lindholm at 32)

For Charles Malik, the most important aspect of Article 1 was the notion of the "dignity of man." In general, there was not much debate regarding the meaning of the terms "freedom" and "dignity." (Lindholm at 47).

Version Two

After a revision of Humphrey's text, the article had the following wording:

All men are brothers. Being endowed with reason as members of one family, they are free and possess equal dignity and rights.

Charles Malik, the Lebanese representative, was the drafter who proposed the wording "endowed with reason."

Version Three

After being revised for the second time by the drafting committee, the recital read as follows:

All men are brothers. Being endowed with reason and conscience, they are members of one family. They are free, and possess equal dignity and rights.

Peng-Chun Chang was the drafter who proposed the word "conscience." The Brazilian government argued out that it was not true that all men are endowed with reason and conscience. However, the main drafter, Malik, stated that his intention was for the words "reason" and "conscience" to be seen "as a function on the level of knowing." Although the drafters regarded this part of Article 1 as problematic, they retained it in the text out of respect for Malik, who felt strongly for the phrase. This decision was no doubt influenced by the fact that Malik was the chair of the Committee proceedings. (Morsink at 39)

Version Four

The next round of revisions produced the following wording:

All men are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed by nature with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another like brothers.

Although the drafters had different conceptions of the term "birth," a majority of them being of the conviction that "a moral birth took place when people were born into the human family," nothing was specifically stated during the drafting process on the controversial issue of abortion. (Morsink 291-2)

Eleanor Roosevelt proposed that the words "born free and equal" should be placed at the beginning of the phrase. The US representative furthermore proposed that "should act," implying duty, should be placed at the end. Malik thought that the word "born" implied that people merely had rights when born, but that they could later loose them. The Venezuelan representative thought the wording implied that equality existed only at birth, whereas Pavlov, the delegate of the Soviet Union, stated that equality of rights before the law is "determined not by the fact of birth, but by the social structure of the state. Thus it was obvious that in the days of feudalism men had not been born free and equal." The French representative, Grumbach, explained to the Russian that "[a]ll representatives agreed that inequality did, in fact, exist, but the statement "All human beings are born free and equal" meant that the right to freedom and equality was inherent from the moment of birth."(Lindholm at 48)

Bogomolov of the Soviet Union complained that Article 1, as it was now constructed, was "devoid of meaning" and "that it would be an act of hypocrisy to place such a text at the beginning of a Declaration." The Soviet representative hence pressed for the deletion of the article because of its "abstract philosophical or religious notion." South Africa was also very critical of the article and was of the opinion that it did not define any right or freedom at all.

The representative from New Zealand argued that "the declaration should, however, state the philosophical basis of human rights and fundamental freedoms." The representative therefore proposed the following version for Article 1:

1. All men are born free, equal in dignity and rights as human beings endowed with reason and conscience, and bound in duty to one another as brothers.
2. All men are members of communities and as such have the duty to respect the rights of their fellow men equally with their own.
3. The just claims of the State, which all men are under the duty to accept, must not prejudice the respect of man's right to freedom and to equality before the law and the safe guard of human rights, which are primary and abiding conditions of all just government.

Although not accepted as the final text for Article 1, this proposal later became reflected in Articles 29 and 30.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University