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)

The second paragraph of Article 2 was originally intended to be a self-standing provision. In the fierce debate about the colonies and the struggle to make the Declaration more universal and inclusive, the Yugoslavian delegation proposed to add to the Declaration a separate article which stated that "the rights proclaimed in this Declaration also apply to any person belonging to the population of Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories." Since the phrase "Non-Self-Governing Territories" was a euphemism for the colonies, this article went a long way to meeting the Charter's demand that human rights also apply to the peoples in the colonies.

By a vote of 16 to 14 and with 7 abstentions, the Yugoslavian article was adopted. Its inclusion represented a definite strengthening of the universality of the document. The groups that voted against, or abstained from voting on, the Yugoslavian proposal consisted of the colonial powers who were joined by nations from Latin America. As a rationale, they claimed that the article on discrimination sufficiently covered the issue and stated that it was unwise to mention special cases for fear that other possible exceptions that were not singled out would avoid scrutiny.

The clearest statement on behalf of the colonial peoples came from A M Newlands, the New Zealand delegate. To those who had argued that the general statement against discrimination was enough she responded that the general principle had been repeatedly declared, "but it had not always been applied in colonial territories." She did not think that a vague line or two in the Preamble or in the operative paragraph was good enough.

Following its adoption, the Yugoslavian article (along with the rest of the draft Declaration) was handed over to a subcommittee whose task was to work on the style and arrangement of the Declaration. If the colonial powers had had no hidden agenda and really believed that Article 2's first paragraph was sufficient, then there would have been no need for them to exceed their mandate. But that is what they were caught doing. The Cuban delegation had proposed that the following words be added as a second paragraph to Article 2:

Neither shall there be any discrimination against anyone because he is an inhabitant of a non-self-governing territory, trust territory or metropolitan power (administrative authority).

A note was attached saying that "this text is to replace the additional article" on the colonies that had been adopted. This proposal was passed on to the subcommittee on arrangement and style.

This subcommittee had been charged to examine the draft Declaration "solely from the standpoint of arrangement, consistency, uniformity, and style." It nevertheless accepted the Cuban proposal in a revised form and proposed that a second paragraph be added to Article 2: "Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political status of the country to which a person belongs." The phrase "Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territory" had been dropped and replaced with the phrase "political status of the country" and the colonies were demoted from having their own separate article to becoming hidden in the second paragraph of another article. In their report the members of the subcommittee admitted that three of them (Ecuador, Poland, and the USSR) had objected to the acceptance of the (revised) Cuban proposal on the grounds that "the Sub-Committee had exceeded its terms of reference in changing the additional article adopted by the Third Committee."

The debate was opened again with strong language used by, for example, the Polish delegate, Fryderika Kalinowska, stating that the demotion of the separate article on the colonies "sprang from the same attitude of mind which was in favor of the colonial system." Most of the metropolitan powers followed the Cuban line, arguing that the more vague and general Cuban terminology was more inclusive and therefore more in keeping with the requirement of universality. Several defenders of the Cuban proposal themselves had trusteeship agreements with the United Nations and they preferred the more general language because it did not single them out as possibly not doing a satisfactory job. Since the agreements they had signed with the United Nations already contained several human rights stipulations, which Humphrey's staff had distributed to the Commission of Human Rights, they felt that these territories did not need to be singled out.

Defenders of the separate article, on the other hand, felt that they were simply continuing a United Nations policy of spelling out the human rights requirements for trust and non-self-governing territories, a precedent set by the Charter itself when it demanded in Article 76(c) that any nation that signed a trusteeship agreement "encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all."

Cassin pointed out to his colleagues that the Cuban proposal had met with the approval of the majority of the subcommittee members and had passed with a vote of 6 to 3, and he "protested against the tendency to question the good faith of the members who constituted the majority."

The chairman, Charles Malik of Lebanon, agreed that the subcommittee "had gone beyond its terms of reference" and so ruled. When the Cuban delegation appealed that ruling of the chair it was rebuffed in a vote of 29 to 7, with 9 abstentions. This meant that the application of the rights of the Declaration to the peoples in the trust and non-self-governing territories once again had its own separate article. It would now take a two-thirds majority to get the matter reconsidered. The British delegation sought to do just that and its delegate, F Corbet, "moved formally that the Commission should re-examine the additional article." This motion was defeated in a vote of 25 to 14, with 6 abstentions. This was one vote short of the required two-thirds majority and set the stage for yet another attempt in the General Assembly debates that soon followed.

There, in an unusual move, the British delegation proposed to delete the separate article on trust and non-self-governing territories and make it the second paragraph of the article on non-discrimination. This new paragraph was adopted (and the separate article dropped) by a vote of 29 to 17, with 10 abstentions. No roll call was taken. If only six delegations had voted the other way, the colonies would not have been demoted, which might have happened had some delegations not felt personally attacked. For instance, New Zealand had voted for the separate article in the Third Committee, but it supported the British move in the General Assembly. The Lebanese delegation also sat on the fence. It is also quite likely that all the Communists except Yugoslavia abstained from voting on the UK proposal. The separate article had originated with the delegation from Yugoslavia. By this time Tito and Stalin had publicly split, so the other communist delegations did not support the Yugoslav initiative and instead presented their own amendments for consideration. By not supporting their Yugoslav comrades, the other Communists in effect undercut their own plan of making the colonies more visible and helped the British demotion attempt to succeed.


See further Morsink, at 97-8.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University