Article 4:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Subsequent Development

The Universal Declaration may not have been the first international instrument banning slavery, and it certainly has not been the last. Subsequent developments associated with Article 4 include, for example, the 1951 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. Although this convention does not refer to slavery per se, it regards exploitation of prostitutes and trafficking in persons as acts that can constitute forms of slavery. The treaty provides for sanctions to be taken against people engaging in these forms of slavery, including the managers of brothels. Parties to this convention assume legal obligations to work actively to prevent the trafficking of persons. (Larsen, 91)

The 1957 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery prohibits debt bondage, serfdom, servile forms of marriage and the exploitation of children as institutions similar to the practice of slavery. The Supplementary Convention also provides for a system of reporting between states as well as to the UN Secretary General. (Larsen, 92)

Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the "ICCPR") includes a prohibition on slavery that mirrors in large part Article 4 of the Declaration. The drafters of the ICCPR, however, drew a distinction between slavery and servitude as is apparent by their placement in separate paragraphs. Article 8.3 of the ICCPR also refers to "compulsory labor." While the ICCPR prohibits "forced or compulsory labor," however, it does so only with several exceptions. For example, Article 8.3(c) provides that labor demanded of people in detention, people enrolled in military services, or people as part of "normal civil obligations" should not be regarded as practices forbidden by the covenant.

Since 1966, apartheid and colonialism have been included as subjects relating to slavery when placed on the agenda of ECOSOC. For example, in its resolution 1232 (XL II) ECOSOC expanded the definition of slavery and affirmed that "the racist policies of apartheid and colonialism constitute slavery like practices." (Larsen, 94)

The International Labor Organization (the "ILO") has also been actively involved in the movement to abolish slavery through its adoption of several conventions such as the 1957 Convention Concerning the Abolition of Forced Labor and the 1957 Convention on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment. The ILO conventions have been important documents in the struggle against slavery and servitude partly due to their implementation mechanisms. (Larsen, 94)

The Working Group of Contemporary Forms of Slavery is the United Nations organ responsible for implementation activities. This body has the mandate to "review developments in the field of slavery and slave trade in all their practices and manifestations, including the slavery-like practices of apartheid and colonialism, the traffic of persons and the exploitation of the prostitution of others."

Regional treaties prohibiting slavery include the 1950 European Convention of Human Rights (the "ECHR") and the 1969 American Convention of Human Rights (the "ACHR.") The ECHR contains a provision dealing with slavery in its fourth article that bears a close resemblance to the corresponding ICCPR provisions, although the European version leaves out any reference to the "slave trade." The sixth article of the ACHR adds one category of prohibition omitted in the ICCPR, namely trafficking in women. The 1981 African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights also has an anti-slavery provision in its fifth article, although this provision includes no reference to servitude or forced labor. (Larsen, 97)

Furthermore, a number of supplementary protocols to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime address slavery-like practices, such as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea.

At the national level, constitutional amendments prohibiting slavery were adopted by Saudi Arabia and Angola in the 1960s. The Government of Mauretania, by contrast, did not abolish the practice of slavery until 1983.

Peter Danchin, Columbia University