Article 1:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Drafting History

  1. Drafting History (1)
  2. Drafting History (2)

Final Version

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards each other in the spirit if brotherhood.

In the final stages of drafting, the Commission on the Status of Women under the leadership of Bodil Begtrup influenced the drafters to the extent that the terms "men" and "like brothers" were replaced by "human beings and "in the spirit of brotherhood." Eleanor Roosevelt expressed her doubt about the need for this change based on the argument that "it had become customary to say 'mankind' and mean both men and women without differentiation." A suggestion to include a reference to "sisters" was contemplated, but decided to be unnecessary since Ralph Harry, the Australian delegate, drew attention to the fact that in the Charter there was a reference to "mankind' and not to "mankind and woman kind." (Morsink at 117-19)

Although the majority of the drafters recognized Article 1 as being the "credo" of the Declaration, there was serious discussion about moving it into the Preamble. One argument for doing so was posed by the Cuban delegate, Cisneros, who stated that "Article 1 of the draft was a statement of fact and not a statement of a right and that, owing to its importance, it would be better inserted in a special preamble." The Belgian representative was of the opposing view on the basis that:

Article 1 was important as a first article of a solemn document, since it affirmed a principle in which some measure summed up the articles that followed."

The Norwegian representative was of the same opinion, but added a legalistic argument that in

the interpretation of texts in international law ... [t]he provisions of the articles had, no doubt, greater weight [than the Preamble] being as they were, definite pledges.

When the matter came to a vote, Panama, South Africa, Venezuela, Guatemala, the Netherlands, and New Zealand were for moving the article to the Preamble. With 10 abstentions and twenty-six countries opposed to such a move, Article 1 remained in its initial placement within the Declaration.

It is also interesting to note that during these debates it was as result of a Belgian proposal that the reference to "nature" was deleted, something supported by Chang because he thought it this was the best way to avoid theological debates. Although many delegates understood that any reference to "nature" was not meant to refer to the notion that human rights stemmed from nature itself, but to the fact that reason and conscience were essential attributes of being human, the reference was nevertheless dropped. The proposal to delete the word "nature" was adopted by 29 votes to four, with 9 abstentions.

Chang then proposed that all the words "they are endowed by nature with reason and conscience" should be deleted. Malik opposed this idea and argued that Article 1 should state characteristics which distinguished human beings from animals--that is, it should retain reference to "reason and conscience." Pavlov argued that Malik's view could indeed work since it did not need to refer to the relevant agent thereby bypassing Chang's critique. This compromise meant that the reference to nature could be omitted, thus making the drafting of a secular document possible.


See Tore Lindholm at 31-57 ("Article 1").

See also Morsink, Chapter 8.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University