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

Drafting History

There was no real debate within the Human Rights Commission as to whether or not the Declaration should include an article on slavery. Cassin stressed the importance of making the article as broad as possible in order to cover all the different practices of servitude that had been resurrected by the Nazis. In addition to slavery, it was agreed that the article should include "servitude." According to Cassin, the word "servitude" was meant to include the ways in which the "Nazis had treated their prisoners of war and the traffic of women and children." The latter part of the article refers to slave practices "in all their forms" and was added on Cassin's insistence to cover the "attenuated forms of slavery which were vigorous in practice" during the Second World War. (Morsink, 41)

There was some debate during the drafting process whether the article should refer to slavery as "involuntary." This proposal was dismissed, however, since it was thought to provide a loophole allowing slave traders to circumvent the article by arguing that that the slave had submitted to slavery "voluntarily." The drafters omitted any reference to voluntarism since they agreed that servitude should be abolished whether voluntary or not. The question whether to include references to national law and potential sanctions arose but was subsequently dismissed. The proposal to merge the article on slavery with that of torture was also rejected. (Larsen, 89-90)

Some drafters suggested that the meaning of Article 4 was already covered by Article 1 which states that "All humans are born free and equal" as well as by Article [_] which states that "Everyone has the right to ... liberty." However, other representatives, such as Demchenko of the USSR, supported the article on the basis that "it could not be denied that the slave trade still existed and that slavery had been reintroduced by the Nazi regime, and that it was therefore essential to include a specific prohibition of slavery in the declaration." In the end, Article 4 was adopted without any major debate as to its meaning or scope. (Larsen, 89)

Peter Danchin, Columbia University