• Introductory article

    It has been 70 years since world leaders explicitly spelled out the rights everyone on the planet could expect and demand simply because they are human beings. Born of a desire to prevent another Ho¬locaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to demonstrate the power of ideas to change the world.

  • Article 1: We are all born free and equal

    The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is – obviously – a document about human rights. So why is dignity listed before rights in Article 1?

  • Article 2: Freedom from Discrimination

    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.

  • Article 3: Right to Life

    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.”

  • Article 4: Freedom from Slavery

    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 5: Freedom from Torture

    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.”

  • Article 6: Right to Recognition 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.

  • Article 7: Right to Equality Before the Law

    At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, women in many industrialized countries fought for the right to vote. “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers,” said U.S. suffragette Susan B. Anthony.

  • Article 8: Right to Remedy

    The pledge of effective remedy for everyone, found in Article 8, is an intrinsic – if all too often neglected – part of the system of providing justice. “True peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice,” said Jane Addams, the second woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, said in 1931.

  • Article 9: Freedom from Arbitrary Detention

    Can you get locked up for being a poet? Yes, in the Soviet Union in 1964.  Joseph Brodsky, now considered one of Russia’s greatest poets, was hauled into court in Leningrad, accused of being “a pseudo-poet in velveteen trousers” – specifically a freeloader who contributed nothing to society.

  • Article 10: Right to a Fair Trial

    In the U.S. state of Maryland in 1984, an anonymous woman called police to identify a man shown in a police sketch of a suspect: Kirk Bloodsworth. The former Marine, then 22, was promptly arrested for the gruesome rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl. Despite thin and contradictory evidence presented at trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death.

  • Article 11: Presumption of Innocence and International Crimes

    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 humankind.

  • Article 12: Right to Privacy

    Should schools use cameras in the classroom to monitor children’s faces and determine whether they are paying attention? Would you use free WiFi at a street kiosk if you knew its cameras and sensors were collecting data on you, and that you would continue to be tracked even after you left the WiFi zone?

  • Article 13: Freedom of Movement

    After the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in Somalia in 1991, conflict and drought forced more than 15 percent of the country’s entire population from their homes. Most of them tried to build new lives in other parts of the country, usually in wretched, unsafe makeshift settlements where they cobbled huts together from discarded detergent cartons and scraps of cloth, and were subject to constant extortion and sexual violence.

  • Article 14: Right to Asylum

    In 1950, two years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), it created the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The agency was to have three years to help the millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes during the Second World War, and then was to be disbanded.

  • Article 15: Right to Nationality

    On the outskirts of the Vietnamese capital, Ho Chi Minh City, an elderly man revealed his most fervent wish: “just one simple hope – that when I died I could get a death certificate, to prove that I ever existed.” As a stateless person, he had not legally existed for the 35 years he had lived in Viet Nam – unable to own property, send his children to school or even buy a motorbike.

  • Article 16: Right to Marry and to Found a Family

    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 17: Right to Own Property

    Australia’s aboriginal people have no written language, so they pass their heritage along through ceremonies and story-telling. As elders recite, others often draw icons in the sand, depicting beliefs, events and life-giving places where water and food could be found. When the ceremony ends, the sand is brushed away to guard the secrets.

  • Article 18: Freedom of Religion or Belief

    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 19: Freedom of Opinion and Expression

    Why would a human rights organization go to court to support someone whose extreme political views or ethical position it fundamentally opposes? A pornographer perhaps, or an anarchist? Because of the rights asserted in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we all have the right to form our own opinions and to express and share them freely.