Preamble section 1:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Concepts and Ideas

  1. Concepts and Ideas (1)
  2. Concepts and Ideas (2)

The key concepts of the first preamble can be divided into three groups: “inherent dignity,” “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,” and “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Inherent dignity

The first idea the drafters sought to assert was the "inherent dignity" of all people. The word dignity means "the quality of being worthy or honorable". For dignity to be inherent to all men and women, means for it to be "fixed" to each individual. The concept of human dignity echoes the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant's idea that one should "treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only" (Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals). Thus, as Henkin states:

“the human rights idea and ideology begin with an ur principle (derived perhaps from Immanuel Kant), the principle of ‘human dignity.’ Human rights has rooted itself entirely in human dignity and finds its complete justification in that idea. The content of human rights is defined by what is required by human dignity … nothing less, perhaps nothing more.”2

Equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family

The second grouping of key concepts refers to the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family." In order to grasp the essence of this phrase it is necessary to understand what is meant by "rights." A "right" is a justifiable claim, on legal or moral grounds, to have or obtain something, or to act in a certain way. These rights belong to everyone who is part of the human family, and are thus human rights. The real value of a right is the special entitlement it gives individuals to press rights-claims if enjoyment of the object of the right is threatened or denied.

The reference to 'human family’ links this first recital to the words "spirit of brotherhood" in Article 1 (Morsink, 283). Human rights are stated to be equally distributed among the people of the world. Since the word "equal" means "to an equal degree or extent; as much in one case as in another," no one member of the human family has more human rights than another. In addition, human rights are inalienable, which means that they "cannot be alienated or transferred from its present ownership or relation." Doctrines of human rights thus roughly equate having human rights and being human. Without the enjoyment (the objects) of human rights, one is almost certain to be alienated or estranged from one’s moral nature (Donelly, 19). Thus, human rights are inalienable, but not in the sense that one cannot be denied the enjoyment of these rights, because repressive regimes daily alienate their peoples from their human rights, but in the sense that losing these rights is morally "impossible;" one cannot lose these rights and live a life worthy of a human being (Donelly, 19). Human rights are thus moral rights of the highest order. People have moral rights which constrain the behavior of others and those rights are inherent in that they are not the result of extraneous acts of government, courts or even social conventions (Morsink, 295).

The notion of inalienable rights bears a clear reference to the French Declaration of 1789 which "recognizes and proclaims…[the] natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of man" and also the Virginia Declaration of Rights which declared in 1776 that “all men are by nature free and equal and independent and have certain inherent rights.”


2. Henkin, Religion, Religions and Human Rights.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University