Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris on December 10, 1948. Its Preamble stated, for the first time in global history, “that the 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.” The Declaration has since been translated into over 500 languages, says the UN website.

The Declaration was adopted soon after the end of the Second World War, and reflects the concerns of its time when it states that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people”. 

The Declaration is not legally binding. 

The General Assembly, through its Preamble, proclaims "this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

The 31 Articles of the 1778-word Declaration cover such themes as equality, the right to life, slavery, torture, arbitrary detention and exile, privacy, nationality, marriage and family, right to own property, freedom of thought and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, right to work, right to rest and leisure, right to an adequate standard of living and health, right to education, among others.

The following are excerpts from 15 of the 30 Articles that remain especially relevant to the present times:

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.

Article 2: 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. 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 be independent, ‘trust’, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.

Article 4: No one can be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 7: 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 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. 

Article 13: 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 their own, and to return to their country. 

Article 15: Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality nor denied the right to change nationality. 

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. 

Article 19: 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. 

Article 20: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to an association. 

Article 23: Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment. Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring 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 their interests.

Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate to maintain health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing, 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 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 26 (abridged here): Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages… 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. 

Focus by Kanika Gupta.


United Nations


United Nations


10 Dec, 1948