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


"Slavery" can be defined an institution based on a relationship of dominance and submission, whereby one person owns another and can exact from that person labor or other services. (Columbia Encyclopedia)

During the Second World War, the Nazis used prisoners of war as slave labor in the arms production industry. War Crimes Reports have made it clear that entire communities were deported to Germany as part of this slave labor policy. These slaves lived under such horrendous conditions that René Cassin claimed that "the status of persons who were deported to Germany was certainly worse than that of ancient slaves." Certain forms of white slave trade are known to have been one aspect of Nazi slave holding. Female war prisoners were given away as gifts between officers, in order to be held as concubines, domestic aids, or both. Hitler was not opposed to his officers engaging in sexual relations with these women, as long as they looked more or less Nordic. Japanese military officials are also known to have held sexual slaves during World War II. (Danieli, 128)

Although slavery had already been banned under international law through various treaties (as well as under the constitutions of many states) prior to the drafting of the Universal Declaration, there was little disagreement amongst the drafters as to whether or not to include an anti-slavery article.(Larsen, 89) As was the case with so many of the articles in the Declaration, the recent atrocities committed by the Nazis had made it necessary to take a renewed and forceful stance against this particular human rights violation. As one of the representatives, Stephen Demchenko of the USSR, stated at the time of drafting, "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."

Under the Geneva Convention, slavery is defined as "the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership is exercised." The same convention defines a slave as a "person in the condition or status of slavery," whereas slave trade means and includes "all acts involved in the capture, acquisition, and disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal or exchange of a person acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged; and in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves by whatever means of conveyance."

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration does not define slavery, although the travaux preparatoires shed some light on the intentions of the drafters. In addition to slavery, Article 4 also bans "servitude," and extends to include both these practices "in all their forms." According to Cassin, "servitude" was meant to include the ways in which the "Nazis had treated their prisoners of war and the traffic of women and children." (Morsink, 41) Cassin expressed his strong support for the words in the latter part of the article, "in all their forms," because "there were attenuated forms of slavery which were vigorous in practice" during the war. Cassin was alluding here to the Nazi practices discussed above of deporting people to Germany and forcing them to work within the arms industry. (Morsink, 41)

Article 4 also has implications for everyone's right to free choice of employment.

Peter Danchin, Columbia University