Articles of Human Rights

Articles of Human Rights

Article 1

We Are All Born Free And Equal

“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.” These robust sentences start the list of Articles of the Declaration. Scholars of the Declaration have traced the roots of Article 1 to many sources, notably the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man that was adopted by an international conference of American States earlier in 1948. Despite that illustrious parentage, the Article was a late addition to the Declaration, and the delegates discussed placing it in the preamble rather than making it one of the Articles. There were disagreements over language, including over the meaning of the word “born,” an argument that remains part of today’s debates over abortion. In ultimately deciding on the strong phrases and the placement of the sentences as the very first Article, the delegates were mindful of the dark human rights abuses during World War II.

Article 2

Freedom From Discrimination

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it is independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” Article 2 states that everyone is entitled to all the freedoms listed in the UDHR, “without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” The last words of this sentence – “other status” – have frequently been cited to expand the list of people specifically protected. This language is reflected in regional instruments, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Article 3

Right To Life

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” The first six words of this short article are at the heart of global attempts to end the death penalty. If it enshrines the right to life, abolitionists argue, how can state-sponsored killing be justified? As South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “to take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.” Drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) had fresh in their minds Nazi concentration camps and state-organized slaughter of millions simply because they were not the “correct” sort of person. Article 3 – and closely related Articles 5 and 9 against torture and arbitrary arrest – were a firm renunciation of Hitler’s belief in the supremacy of the state to control the lives of individuals. The right to life has gone on to be one of the core rights accepted by countries; 77 percent of the world’s constitutions include this right, compared to 27 percent of constitutions in effect in 1945, when the UN was founded.

Article 4

Freedom From Slavery

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Men bought and sold like commodities, held for years against their will on fishing boats off Thailand. Yazidi women sold into sex slavery, raped daily and passed from owner to owner. Human beings offered as birthday gifts to children. Article 4 is clear: no one has the right to make us a slave and we cannot make anyone our slave. Enormous progress has been made in the 70 years since adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and indeed in the 150 years since entire economies was based on ownership of our fellow human beings, and religious leaders found divine inspiration for the oppressive system. Yet, slavery-like practices and trafficking in human beings continue to remain a reality of our time. The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

Article 5

Freedom From Torture

“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” There is one absolute prohibition in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that is universally accepted as unequivocal: Article 5’s ban on torture. At times, states may have disputed the definition of what constitutes torture, but virtually none now openly defend the practice, even if some still carry it out in what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described as “some of the darkest corners of our planet.” The ban on torture is another reflection of the revulsion against Nazi concentration camps and Nazi medical experiments on living people that so motivated the drafters of the UDHR in the late 1940s. The ban on torture is so absolute that the UN body charged with monitoring the prevention of torture has recommended even trainee soldiers should be reminded that they have a duty to disobey orders from a superior officer to commit torture.

Article 6

Right To Recognition Before The Law

“Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law” After setting standards for dignity and freedom, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) devotes a cluster of articles to standards for the administration of justice including what is often known as “due process.” Roughly one-fourth of the UDHR is devoted to legal human rights. As we have already seen, in the late 1940s, the abuses of the Nazi regime were fresh in the mind of the UDHR’s drafters, who thought these provisions would entrench the strongest protection against future Nazi-type human rights violations. And indeed, by the late 1940s all of these provisions had been incorporated in the legal systems of developed nations.

Article 7

Right To Equality Before The Law

“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” Article 7 says the law is the same for everyone, and must treat everyone in all these categories fairly. Three times within 39 words, it bans discrimination. These principles of equality and non-discrimination help form the rule of law. These obligations are further elaborated in a number of international instruments to combat specific forms of discrimination against not only women, but also indigenous peoples, migrants, minorities, people with disabilities. Discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity are also covered. The principle of equality for all does not only apply to governments. Discrimination must also be addressed in the workplace, school and home. Many laws around the world do little to deter violence against women and in some cases, even encourage it or condone it.

Article 8

Right To Remedy

“Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.” Justice is not just about crime and punishment. Fair trials and due process are also vital components of any system of justice, but as defined in the UDHR, justice is a holistic concept which also includes providing effective remedies for injustice and violations of the rights of all individuals “as granted… by the constitution or by law” – and not necessarily simply financial compensation. As the old saying goes, money does not buy forgiveness, nor does it solve all woes. Over the years, states have applied a wide variety of different remedies – either in response to domestic courts or to other entities, including regional and international courts and institutions, as well as UN bodies – and they have covered violations across the whole spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Article 9

Freedom From Arbitrary Detention

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Freedom from arbitrary detention is closely related to other sections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): Article 3’s right to life and Article 5’s ban on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Although the UDHR never uses the term habeas corpus (Medieval Latin for “you have the body”), the ban on arbitrary detention also harkens back to the centuries-old right of every inmate to be brought to court so it can be determined whether they are unlawfully imprisoned and should be released. Detention is considered arbitrary if there was no fair trial, or there is no legal basis for it, as when a person is kept in custody after serving their sentence. Significantly, no one should be locked up simply for exercising a number of rights covered by the UDHR, such as freedom of expression (Article 19), freedom of religion (Article 18), or the right to claim asylum (Article 14).

Article 10

Right To A Fair Trial

“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” The right to a fair trial is at the heart of Article 10, one more section of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that aims to prevent a repetition of the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany, where compliant judges and courts served the aims of the Nazi regime, rather than the cause of justice in the interest of the people. Some guarantees of a fair trial, including the right to presumption of innocence, can also be found in Articles 6, 7, 8 and 11 of the Declaration. The right to a fair trial has been accepted beyond dispute by every country (even if they do not always honour it). Fair trials not only protect suspects and defendants, they make societies safer and stronger by solidifying confidence in justice and the rule of law. Constantly protesting his innocence, Bloods worth was to become, in 1993, the first person in the United States freed from death row on the basis of DNA evidence proving innocence. He was released after more than nine years in prison, but not fully exonerated until 2003. Another man pleaded guilty to the crime in 2004.

Article 11

Presumption Of Innocence And International Crimes

“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.” At first glance, Article 11 says that every human being is innocent until proven guilty, a fundamental element of fair trials and the rule of law, and a concept everyone can understand. But dig a little deeper into this Article, and we uncover a fascinating story about the development of international courts with the power to hold individuals accountable for the most heinous crimes known to humans.

Article 12

Right To Privacy

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, or to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Privacy is not an absolute right, and can be limited in some cases, such as prison authorities searching cells for contraband. However, intrusions on privacy have to be in proportion to the benefit to society. The European Court of Human Rights, for example, ruled in 2000 that it was not “necessary in a democratic society” for the secret service to amass a dossier against a Romanian citizen including details (some false) dating back 60 years. Privacy, especially digital privacy, can seem an abstract concept. As concerns about terrorism have mounted in recent years, governments have sought to intrude ever more into citizens’ privacy, citing national security as the reason.

Article 13

Freedom Of Movement

“Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees freedom of movement. You should be able to travel around your own country and choose where you live. This right is not absolute. Countries can limit the freedom of people on their territory, such as confining them to their village during an Ebola outbreak, or compel them to leave their homes if, for example, they are threatened by a typhoon or other natural disaster. But there has to be an overriding public interest: it’s unlawful for a dictator to expel people from their homes to build a golf course. And evacuation of civilians during a war cannot be cover for ethnic cleansing.

Article 14

Right To Asylum

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” Article 14 makes it clear people cannot be granted asylum simply to avoid prosecution for “non-political crimes or acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” So war criminals, and those guilty of a crime against the peace or a crime against humanity, do not qualify for asylum. Cross-border displacement – including migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees – has become hugely controversial around the world in recent years. In order to exercise the right articulated in Article 14, people have to actually enter another country, and today countries all over the world are slamming the doors shut, keeping out refugees and other migrants with barbed-wire fences, walls and armies.

Article 15

Right To Nationality

“Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” The Universal Declaration asserts that all human beings are born with the inherent rights it sets out. For this reason, many dislike Hannah Arendt’s formulation that nationality is the “right to have rights.” But without nationality, it is practically impossible to exercise many other rights – to go to school, get medical treatment, get a job legally, and report a crime, travel across borders and, as the Vietnamese man lamented, even for your family to get a death certificate when you go. Some people are stateless because of the break-up of states, or disintegration of empires, generations ago. Others do not have, or lose, their nationality unintentionally because of badly drawn up, or clashing laws within a state – or even (when parents are of different nationalities) between states.

Article 16

Right To Marry And To Found A Family

“Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Most of the 30 Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) begin with gender-free language: "Everyone," "All" or "No One. But Article 16 states that "men and women" have the right to marry, with the women drafters of the UDHR succeeding in their determination that it should spell out clearly that women had equal rights in marriage, given there was still very widespread discrimination in matters relating to marriage at the time. Article 16 delves into the intimate lives of humans. It says every adult has the right to marry and have a family if they want to. Women and men also have the same rights during their marriages, and if they divorce. In addition, for the only time in this document, it explicitly invokes the duty of the State to provide protection, underscoring the high regard the drafters had for the family.

Article 17

Right To Own Property

“Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the right to property. This is yet another right included in reaction to the atrocities of the Holocaust, when property was confiscated from Jews and others, often to enrich Nazi officials. European Jews were stripped of billions of dollars’ worth of cash, artwork, houses, businesses and personal belongings.

Article 18

Freedom Of Religion Or Belief

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says we all have the right to our own beliefs, to have a religion, have no religion, or to change it. For its time, the UDHR was very progressive in asserting that believers of all religions and secular beliefs should be able to live peacefully with their rights guaranteed by the State, while not presuming any national or state-sponsored religion. Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic believers as well as those who do not profess any religion or belief. Less well known is the role that religious organizations played in launching and sustaining the human rights movement. Freedom of religion is considered by many people and most of the nations to be a fundamental human right. In a country with a state religion, freedom of religion is generally considered to mean that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths. Freedom of belief is different. It allows the right to believe what a person, group or religion wishes, but it does not necessarily allow the right to practice the religion or belief openly and outwardly in a public manner, a central fact of religious freedom.

Article 19

Freedom Of Opinion And Expression

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. Freedom of expression is however explicitly protected in most spheres, and there are rising concerns today at the continuing, and possibly increasing, efforts to misuse the concept of “hate speech” or “incitement” as an excuse for stifling dissent or criticism of a government in power, often using anti-terrorism legislation as the legal means to what is, under international law, an illegal end. Article 19 includes the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Although individuals enjoy the same rights online as offline, states are also censoring, and sometimes criminalizing, a wide range of online content via vague or ambiguous laws prohibiting “extremism,” “blasphemy”, “defamation”, “offensive” language, “false news” and “propaganda”.

Article 20

Freedom Of Assembly And Association

“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.” Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the state.

Article 21

A Short Course In Democracy

“Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) outlines some of the fundamental principles of democracy: the will of the people should be the basis of government authority, and everyone has the right to take part in the government “directly or through freely chosen representatives.” It calls for periodic, genuine elections with universal suffrage and secret ballot, and also establishes that “everyone has the right to equal access to public service.” It does not actually include the word “democracy” – which does not appear anywhere in the UDHR, apart from one reference, in Article 29, to “democratic society.” Just three years after the end of World War II, the term “democracy” was already snared up in the rapidly developing Cold War ideological disputes, with the Soviet bloc and Western countries interpreting the term quite differently.

Article 22

Right To Social Security

“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” Article 22 spells out the qualities of the modern welfare state that are almost universally accepted today. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), in 1900, only 17 countries had social protection systems to support individuals and families through pensions for the elderly, disability payments for injured workers, benefits for mothers, health insurance and many other programs. Social assistance can include cash transfers, and is often referred to as a “social safety net” that helps people, especially the poor and vulnerable, cope with life’s shocks, find jobs and educate their children.

Article 23

Right To Work

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” The right to work is the concept that people have a human right to work, or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so. The right to work is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law through its inclusion in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where the right to work emphasizes economic, social and cultural development. The Right to Work principle–the guiding concept of the National Right to Work Committee ( and the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation ( –affirms the right of every American to work for a living without being compelled to belong to a union. Compulsory unionism in any form–“union shop,” “closed shop,” or “agency shop” –is a contradiction of the Right to Work principle and the fundamental human right of freedom that the principle represents.

Article 24

Right To Rest And Leisure

“Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. Article 23 owes much to the contributions of Latin American countries to the drafting process between 1946 and 1948. In the mid-1940s, almost all countries in this region had democratic governments, and their constitutions were rich with social and economic rights, including provisions for annual holidays and other forms of paid leave.

Article 25

Right To Adequate Standard Of Living

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.” Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights covers a wide range of rights, including those to adequate food, water, sanitation, clothing, housing and medical care, as well as social protection covering situations beyond one’s control, such as disability, widowhood, unemployment and old age. Mothers and children are singled out for special care. The right to adequate standard of living is concerned as fundamental human rights. It is mainly concerned with right to food, pure drinking water, shelter and health. These are primary determinants to an adequate standard of living.

Article 26

Right To Education

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) makes universal free primary education compulsory, and is usually thought of as a right about children. But as Kimani Maruge showed, people of any age can seek and benefit from education and literacy. Not only was a movie made about his life, but his story inspired many dropouts in Kenya to return to school and complete their education.

Article 27

Right To Cultural, Artistic And Scientific Life

“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) helped lay the ground for this to be recognized as a war crime, and in a landmark judgment in September 2016, the International Criminal Court declared Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a member of the Ansar Dine armed group operating in Mali, guilty of the war crime of attacking historic and religious buildings in Timbuktu. He was sentenced to nine years in prison. Article 27 says everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to share scientific advances and its benefits, and to get credit for their own work. This article firmly incorporates cultural rights as human rights for all. They relate to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and to creative responses to a constantly changing world. A prerequisite for implementing Article 27 is ensuring the necessary conditions for everyone to continuously engage in critical thinking, and to have the opportunity to interrogate, investigate and contribute ideas, regardless of frontiers.

Article 28

Right To A Free And Fair World

“Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” Article 28 says, in its entirety, that "everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized." The First Amendment guarantees our right to free expression and free association, which means that the government does not have the right to forbid us from saying what we like and writing what we like; we can form clubs and organizations, and take part in demonstrations and rallies. It covers a wide range of rights, including those to adequate food, water, sanitation, clothing, housing and medical care, as well as social protection covering situations beyond one's control, such as disability, widowhood, unemployment and old age.

Article 29

Duty To Your Community

“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 also says rights are not unlimited. If they were, social balance and harmony would be impossible. It seeks to link the exercise of rights with the interests of the world community, which the United Nations had been set up in 1945 to represent. Community responsibilities are an individual's duties or obligations to the community and include cooperation, respect and participation. The concept goes beyond thinking and acting as individuals to common beliefs about shared interests and life. A basic community responsibility is voting in elections.

Article 30

Rights are Inalienable

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. An inalienable right is a right that can’t be restrained or repealed by human laws.” Sometimes called natural rights, inalienable rights “flow from our nature as free people. While there are important rights held by Americans and other citizens of democracies around the world that are not considered inalienable — such as the right to a trial by jury and even the right to own property — the most important are inalienable because they cannot be given or taken away by a government. Instead, it is a government’s job to protect inalienable rights. Article 30 has been called "limits on tyrants." It gives all of us freedom from State or personal interference in the rights in all the preceding Articles. However, it also stresses that we may not exercise these rights in contravention of the purposes of the United Nations. Working in the shadow of the Second World War, the drafters wanted to prevent Fascists’ returning to power in Germany by, for example, taking advantage of freedom of expression and freedom to stand for election at the expense of other rights and freedoms. They were acutely aware that many of the atrocities inflicted by Hitler’s regime were based on an efficient legal system – but with laws that violated basic human rights.