|Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.|
The impulse for this article can be traced to the tradition of Latin American Socialism, with selective assists from the Communist delegations.1 The language of Article 17 is broad and comprehensive. It applies to both individual and collective forms of property ownership. The absence of limitations proposed in the legislative debate is noteworthy; there are no references in the article to conformity with state laws, personal property, or decent living. The right is not an absolute one, however, as it is foreseen that persons can be deprived of their property under certain circumstances, but not arbitrarily. The term "arbitrarily" would seem to prohibit unreasonable interferences by states and the taking of property without compensation, but a precise and agreed upon definition does not appear in the preparatory documents.
Article 17 should also be read in conjunction with other provisions of the UDHR. Articles 2 and 7, for example, provide that neither discrimination nor any distinction shall be made on the basis of property ownership or lack thereof.
1. Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent (1999) 333.
Adapted from Gudmundur Alfredsson in Asbjorn Eide et al, Eds., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Commentary (1992) 256-257.