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,

Drafting History

Against the long historical background of disagreement regarding the philosophical basis of human rights, it may come as no surprise that the main philosophical question that arose during the drafting procedure of the first Preamble was whether to include a reference to God or not. This matter had become an issue earlier, during the drafting of Article 1, but was postponed in order to be decided upon when drafting Preamble One, which was introduced late in the drafting process.

The Dutch representative, L.J.C Beaufort, was very eager to state the source of human rights directly within the first recital and wanted it to refer to “the divine origin and immortal destiny” of human rights. Other representatives, such as the Polish delegate, argued that “the Declaration was a United Nations document which could not properly deal with metaphysical questions”. The Dutch delegate responded to this by claiming that “for those who were agnostics, the Netherlands amendment was merely devoid of any meaning, but it could not harm them or offend their conscience, since they adhered to the formula ignoramus et ignoramibus [we are ignorant and we shall be ignorant]. On the other hand, if the amendment were adopted it would give satisfaction to the majority of the world’s population, which generally speaking, still believed in the existence of a Supreme Being.”

Apparently feeling targeted by this last statement, Bogolow, the Soviet representative pointed out that “the dispute on the divine origins of man had been fought out in Paris as long ago as when the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen had included no reference to the divine origin”. The Belgian representative pointed out that although he was

"personally inclined to favor [the Dutch amendment] because it provided the idea of equality of man with perhaps the only possible ultimate argument and would thus strengthen the Declaration….[It] raised a very delicate philosophical problem; and in any case it would be inconceivable for the Commission to try to solve the question by a vote."

Grumbach echoed this notion by claiming that:

"it would be wrong to take a decision by majority or minority vote on the insertion of a reference to man’s origins…. There would … be no point voting on the Netherlands amendment, as agreement was impossible."

What finally made the Dutch representative withdraw his proposal was his understanding that his amendment would not be accepted if the issue came to a vote. The Dutch withdrawal meant that the creation of a secular document became possible and the recital was adopted unanimously in its final form (Morsink, 294).


For more on the drafting procedure, see Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent (1999) at 288-94.

Peter Danchin, Columbia University