Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 13-15

views updated

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 13-15


By: United Nations

Date: December 10, 1948

Source: United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 13-15. New York: United Nations, 1948.

About the Author: The United Nations (UN), founded in 1945, is the premier international organization worldwide. The UN has agencies that address topics ranging from population to human rights to world health, in addition to working on international relations between various signators.


The creation of the United Nations in 1945 and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights brought the issue of human rights and basic recognition of humanity as an international political issue to the attention of world leaders. As the world attempted to rebuild and heal from the ravages of World War II, issues such as sexual slavery in Japan; the treatment of displaced persons and refugees unable or unwilling to return to their home countries; and fascism in Spain and Italy compelled diplomats to create a basic set of written rights, modeled on constitutions and other documents of government, to codify basic expectations of human dignity and treatment by governments.

In June 1946, the United Nations created the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), which would oversee human rights issues in member nations. Coupled with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the commission would use the document as a guide for monitoring human rights abuses, reporting to the UN, and for facilitating greater expression of rights for all citizens of member nations.

Articles 13, 14, and 15 of the Declaration of Human Rights specifically address internal and external migration and national identity. World War II displaced millions of people throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia, and northern Africa. New borders were drawn and redrawn throughout the war and after; prisoners of war struggled to find their way home, while non-combatants found their villages destroyed, and needed shelter, communities, and jobs. The 1948 creation of the state of Israel led to mass migrations of Jewish people to the new state—and the displacement of Palestinians who had occupied that territory before Israel's borders were drawn.

The UN's inclusion of Articles 13, 14, and 15 in the Declaration of Human Rights was an acknowledgement not only of the contemporaneous immigration and emigration issues in the late 1940s, but of future international migration issues.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Nationality and Freedom of Movement

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) 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 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.


The right to move within one's own country and to leave it, as defined in Article 13, was violated during the Cold War by various member nations. Subjects under the Soviet Union could be prosecuted for defecting, while the United States made travel to communist Cuba illegal. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court determined in the case United States v. Laub that the United States could not prosecute U.S. citizens who chose to violate travel bans. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter lifted all travel restrictions, but in 1982 President Ronald Reagan imposed currency controls on U.S. dollars spent on travel, lodging, food, and items in Cuba. Some legal experts interpret such travel restrictions as a violation of civil liberties and of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defined the term refugee, placed the United Nations in the position of assisting with international issues related to political asylum, and detailed housing, employment, and other necessary life aspects for persons designated as refugees living in member states. However, Article 14 of the Declaration of Human Rights is limited with respect to refugee status; While it recognizes a person's right to request asylum and to accept it, it imposes no obligation on member states to extend such asylum.

Article 15 recognizes the right of all persons to a nationality; no country can strip nationality from a person "arbitrarily" or without cause, and no person can be deprived of the right to change his or her nationality at will. Again, however, the UN Declaration of Human Rights does not obligate member states to offer nationality to any person who requests it; Ireland, for instance, is not obligated by Article 13 to grant citizenship to someone from Senegal simply because the Senegalese person asked for it. At the same time, a native-born Irish person cannot lose his or her nationality simply because the Irish government decided to do so without cause.

With immigration a huge political issue in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world in the early years of the twenty-first century, Articles 13-15 define and recognize rights concerning internal migration, civil liberties, asylum, and nationality, but leave open the question of immigration rights for non-asylum purposes. As policymakers and international law experts debate such issues, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains a guide—though not a treaty—for framing basic questions of movement, identity, and humanity.



Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Ishay, Micheline. The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Steiner, Henry, and Philip Alston. International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Web site

United Nations. "Human Rights." 〈http://www.un.org/rights/〉 (accessed June 11, 2006).

About this article

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 13-15

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article