UDHR Introduction - The Articles

  1. Introduction
  2. Preamble Sections 1-5
  3. Preamble Sections 6-8
  4. The Articles

The Thirty Articles

Following the seven recitals of the Preamble and Proclamation, the remainder of the Universal Declaration consists of thirty concise and carefully worded articles. At the time of the drafting of the Declaration, the Chinese representative in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Chang, proposed a conceptual framework in which the initial three articles of the Declaration should express the main ideas of eighteenth century political philosophy on rights: Article 1 to express the idea of “fraternity;” Article 2 that of “equality;” and Article 3 that of “liberty.” To a large extent that is how the early articles became organized. Article 1 has been described as the “cornerstone” of the Declaration and deals with broad foundational concepts such as freedom, equality, dignity and rights. Article 2 deals with the basic norms of equality and non-discrimination. And Article 3 sets forth the basic principle of “personal security” which is then defined, expanded and clarified in the following nine articles (i.e., Articles 4—11). The remaining articles in the Declaration deal with a range of matters which, in general terms, cover issues of civil and political rights (for example, freedom of religion, expression and association); new international rights like citizenship and asylum; and economic, social and cultural rights which are dealt with in Articles 22-28.

The site contains discussion and analysis of each of these thirty articles. For each article, you will find six categories of analysis as follows:

(7) an introduction; (8) the meaning or definition of the relevant concept(s) in that article; (9) the history of that concept; (10) the history of the drafting process that led to its inclusion in the Declaration; (11) its subsequent development in international human rights law and processes; and finally (12) famous cases or applications that demonstrate the influence of that article in international law, relations or affairs.

For example, in the case of Article 5 which is the article dealing with “torture” and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, you can trace –

(1) the evolving meaning of these terms in international and regional human rights instruments and cases;

(2) the history of the concept of torture dating back to Beccaria’s 1764 book “On Crimes and Punishments;”

(3) how the drafting committee struggled to define these concepts in the Declaration;

(4) how this article has impacted on more recent developments, such as the inclusion and definition of rape and other forms of sexual violence in international human rights law, and the way that torture and other gross violations of human rights have been dealt with by criminal prosecutions and truth commissions in societies in transition from an authoritarian past to democratic rule; and finally

(5) how the development of a widely accepted norm against torture led to the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet by the London Metropolitan Police on 16 October 1998. As Reed Brody, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch states, the arrest and the ruling by the House of Lords that Pinochet did not enjoy immunity as a former head of state were a wake up call for tyrants and their victims everywhere. Countries such as Belgium and Spain, which have enacted broad universal jurisdiction legislation to fulfill their obligations under the Torture Convention, have quickly attracted a long docket of criminal prosecutions filed against alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses. Many in the human rights community, especially in the US, have also begun to focus on civil remedies as a means of enforcing human rights norms. Courts in the United States have pioneered the use of civil remedies to sue human rights violators, under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act. Such litigation has resulted in billions of dollars in judgments. Famous cases such as the Filártiga litigation are thus also considered in this section, and practitioners such as Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights offer their views on how the Declaration has had an impact on their work and how US courts can be used in international human rights cases.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University