Article 29:
Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


Article 29 reminds us that the individual has not only rights but also duties (Paragraph 1), and that limitations on rights not only may (Paragraph 2) but also must (Paragraph 3) be drawn. None of these matters, however, is articulated in any detail. The proclamation of rights in previous articles of the UDHR is thus accompanied by three caveats.

Two of these ideas seem to be obvious and necessary: that the corollary of rights is duties, and that rights are not unlimited. Otherwise, no social balance and harmony would be possible.

However, since the UDHR does not list the duties of the individual, there is no such thing as fundamental or "human" duties in the same way there are rights. Any catalogue of duties to the community--as one finds in some constitutions--would therefore be to some extent arbitrary, or rather a matter of domestic law and politics.

It is worth noting that experience has shown the crucial importance of so-called limitations, sometimes described as restrictions, or even as forthright exceptions from rights. Although the terminology differs, the issue of permissible limitations sometimes overshadows the basic principle that a right is supposed to exist, both on the "domestic" or "national" and on the international level.

The third idea is less obvious. In fact, in the last paragraph it could seem that the parent organization somewhat self-righteously takes the opportunity to claim priority for its own purposes and principles. That the exercise of rights should yield to such considerations might appear doubtful if one thinks of similar statements in a national declaration in favor of the purposes and principles of the nation or its constitution. But it is obviously necessary to balance the exercise of rights with the interest of the world community which the United Nations claim to represent. Perhaps the UDHR on this point says either too much or very little.

Article 29 was previously part of a set of three (and then two) articles dealing with the communitarian dimension of rights possession. It has deep connections with the references to "human family" in the first recital and to "the spirit of brotherhood" in Article 1. Article 29 came to be located at the end of the Declaration instead of the beginning, which is where it was until very late in the drafting process. The third paragraph of this article overlaps with Article 30.1

1. Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent (1999) 336.

Adapted from Torkel Opsahl in Asbjorn Eide et al, Eds., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Commentary (1992) 449.