Article 21:
Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


Article 21, innocently appearing in the midst of a number of civil and social rights, is, in fact, a revolution within a revolution. Through this provision the international community has not only declared the idea of the equal and inalienable rights of the individual in relation to his or her state, but also set minimum requirements for the structure and functioning of this state: the authority of its government must be based on "the will of the people," and there must be a system of democratic participation with equal political rights for every citizen. Article 21 is thus primarily concerned with members of a given political community (citizens) rather than with individuals as such.

In regard to Article 21, it seems especially pertinent to stress a broader framework; the modern notion of political rights is based upon the principle of equality (Articles 1, 2, 4, 7), presupposes civil rights and liberties and certain basic social rights, and is affected by the final limitation provisions (Articles 29 and 30).

The drafters fully appreciated the enormous difference between Hitler's "Fuhrer principle of government" and the machinery of the more democratic state. They also understood that, in conjunction with Article 2's prohibition of discrimination on the basis of political opinion, Article 21 calls for a multiparty system.1

1. Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent (1999) 334.

Adapted from Allan Rosas in Asbjorn Eide et al, Eds., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Commentary (1992) 299.