GUIDE
Why is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights important?
08 May 2017
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

A drawing by French cartoonist t0ad

Adopted and proclaimed on 10 December 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains 30 articles that have been embedded in international treaties, national constitutions and other laws. The declaration is one of the cornerstones of the International Bill of Human Rights, which became law in 1976.

The full declaration sets out the basic rights all people should enjoy and expect from their governments and other governments. Though the declaration is often ignored, it represents the ideal that the world’s government should strive to meet.

Article 18 and Article 19 deal with freedom of thought and freedom of expression most directly, though other articles also reference these fundamental rights.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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.

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More information about freedom of expression

Why is free speech important? Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It reinforces all other human rights, allowing society to develop and progress. The ability to express our opinion and speak freely is essential to bring about change in society.

Why is access to freedom of expression important? All over the world today, both in developing and developed states, liberal democracies and less free societies, there are groups who struggle to gain full access to freedom of expression for a wide range of reasons including poverty, discrimination and cultural pressures. While attention is often, rightly, focused on the damaging impact discrimination or poverty can have on people’s lives, the impact such problems have on free expression is less rarely addressed.

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