Article 19:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


This article reflects the tremendous interest in the freedom of information in the postwar years. The Soviet Union proposed an amendment that would deny this right to Nazi and fascist groups. This forced the drafters to discuss the question of how tolerant an already just society should be of intolerant groups like Nazis. Taking together Articles 19 and 7, they solved the dilemma by giving everyone two rights: the right to free speech (subject to the limitation of Article 29) and the right to be protected against hate speech.1

The roots of the right to freedom of information may be found in the struggle for the freedom of speech of legislators during the 17th century. As early as 1688, the English Bill of Rights provided "that the freedom of speech and debate or proceedings in Parliament ought not be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament." The scope of this freedom was later gradually expanded by the United States Bill of Rights, added to the constitution in 1791, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789). Article 11 of the French Declaration stated that "The unrestrained communication of thought or opinions being one of the most precious rights of man, every citizen may speak, write and publics freely, provided he be responsible for the abuse of this liberty, in case determined by law." At the end of the 19th century, the freedom of the press had been accepted in most countries. After World War II, the concept of freedom of the press, now significantly relabeled "freedom of information" was, however, more controversial than ever.

1. Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent (1999) 333.

Adapted from Lauri Hannikainen and Kristian Myntti in Asbjorn Eide et al, Eds., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Commentary (1992) 275.