Article 2:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Drafting History

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

In a speech he gave in November 1927, Adolf Hitler stated that he saw "the value of a man [a]s determined in the first place by his inner racial virtues" and that the Arian race was at "the top of the list."1 Arians, he wrote in Mein Kampf, were "the highest race and "the master people." He therefore declared war "on the Marxist [belief] that men are equal" and was willing to draw the "ultimate consequence of recognizing the importance of blood." We see in this last comment the stark contrast between the National Socialist and the Communist views of equality and non-discrimination. In fact, it was the Nazi denial of equality that led the Communists to insist on the inclusion of the principle of non-discrimination in the Declaration. In the First Session of the Drafting Committee, the delegates expressed their priorities for the bill to be drafted. Alexei Pavlov, the USSR delegate, stated that in his opinion the principle of non-discrimination

was the most important one to be included in the Bill of Rights -- a question, which ought to be raised under the present historical, concrete and material conditions. Whatever discrimination still exists in the world must be destroyed. (Morsink, at 39)

A general non-discrimination clause was included in the Secretariat's first proposal for a draft declaration. The Drafting Committee then established a working group of three representatives. In its draft, the principle of non-discrimination was only included in the Preamble and not in any of the substantive articles. Mr. Cassin explained the difference between this draft and that presented by the Secretariat. He stated that the draft put forward by the working group contained a preamble which spelled out the principles and that non-discrimination should be included among those general principles.

In the final draft from the Drafting Committee, a general non-discrimination clause was again included in the substantive part of the Declaration. During the ensuing discussions in the Drafting Committee, the Commission, and the Third Committee of the General Assembly, these aspects were among the major topics of debate.


See Asbjørn, at 60.

Second Paragraph of Article 2 and the Problem of the Colonies

The second paragraph of Article 2 makes reference to the political, jurisdictional and international status of countries or "territories," whether independent, trust, non-self governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

In 1914, Lenin calculated that "more than half of the world's population lived in colonies, which together covered ¾ of the world's territory," a calculation that was still roughly correct at the end of the 1940's.2 This fits the estimate that Philippe De La Chapelle made of the United Nations membership at the time the Declaration was adopted: "North and South America with 21 countries represented 36% of the total, Europe with 16 countries 27%, Asia with 14 countries 24%, Africa with 4 countries a mere 6%, and the South Sea Islands with three countries 5%".3 This reveals that the continents of Africa and Asia were grossly under-represented. And that is where in the 1940's some of the most prominent drafting nations still had their colonial empires. (Morsink, 97)

The Declaration was written at a time when these empires had just started to break up. Two of the most influential drafters, Malik from Lebanon and Romulo from the Philippines, were from countries that gained their independence in 1946. Syria also joined that year. In 1947 India, Burma, Pakistan, and in 1948 Ceylon gained their independence. Both India and Pakistan played an active role in the drafting process. The People's Republic of China was not established until 1949, meaning that the great talents of P.C. Chang, which helped shape the Declaration, were used on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek's fading government rather than to express the wishes of the new Communist regime. Today, having just passed the Declaration's fiftieth anniversary, the United Nations has three times the membership it had when the Declaration was adopted.


1. Adolf Hitler, "Selected Speeches", in Political Ideologies, James A. Gould and Willis H. Truit (eds.), New York, Macmillan, 1973, at 117.
2. V L Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism ( New York: International Publishers, 1943) chart at 80.
3. Philippe De La Chapelle, La Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme et le catholicisme, Bibliothèque Constitutionelle et de Science Politique, tome 29 (Paris: Librairie Général de Droit et le Jurispudence, R. Pichon et R Durand-Auzias, Soufflot, 1967) at 44.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University