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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) permits restriction on human rights based on these reasons (Article 29):

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.

What do "morality" and "general welfare in a democratic society" mean in this context ?

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  • Legal definition of morality. Obviously, cultural practices do determine what is moral.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 23, 2023 at 11:19
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    I think it is intended to be "the just requirements of [{morality}, {public order} and {the general welfare}] in a democratic society" rather than "the just requirements of [{morality}, {public order} and {the general welfare in a democratic society}]". In other words, all three requirements apply in a democratic society, not just the last one. Mar 23, 2023 at 11:19

2 Answers 2

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What it means is "if a democracy bans pornography or protests on a busy intersection, that's OK. If a dictatorship bans criticism, even peaceful criticism, that's not OK."

  • The first factor is that the ban comes from a democratic government, accountable to the citizens in the next election if the citizens think the government was excessive.
  • The second factor is that the ban has one of the enumerated causes, and not just whim of the government.

Documents like this are not meant to be read like a national administrative procedure. They are political declarations of intent and principle. Read about the Helsinki Accords, and the Helsinki Group this triggered in the USSR to hold the Communist government to their own promises.

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  • > The second factor is that the ban has one of the enumerated causes, and not just whim of the government. what are the ennumerated causes you are talking about ? @o.m.
    – user45449
    Mar 23, 2023 at 16:39
  • also how broadly is this clause interpreted ? @o.m. ? your answer seems to give the impression that they can restrict those rights very broadly as long as it's democratically done and for public values
    – user45449
    Mar 23, 2023 at 16:54
  • @Fizz, you should put that into an answer, rather than a series of comments.
    – o.m.
    Mar 23, 2023 at 17:06
  • @IndianLawApplicant, "morality, public order, and general welfare."
    – o.m.
    Mar 23, 2023 at 17:07
  • after some thinking I think my main question really is weather are all the rights in the declaration are restrictable under those grounds in article 29 ?
    – user45449
    Mar 24, 2023 at 2:00
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Just as a bit of [interesting, maybe] history, some of the wording appears to have been initially (1947) proposed for article 4 by Cuba (which was not communist then)

The right to choose and profess freely his religion without any restriction other than that imposed by respect for morality and public order.

This was apparently based on the wording of some Latin American constitutions like that of Colombia [1886, art 53]. Cuba's own constitution had something similar at art 35, but I'm not sure when that was adopted.

Later on (in 1948, I think)

Mr. Loutfi (Egypt) submitted the following text for article 2, paragraph 2, which his delegation had drafted in consultation with the delegations of France and the United Kingdom:

“In the exercise of all the rights and freedoms enumerated in this Declaration, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are necessary to secure due recognition and respect for the rights of others and to the requirements of morality, of general welfare and of public order in a democratic society.”

There were some objections, but e.g. the argument for this specific enumeration was that

Mr. Wilson (United Kingdom) saw no valid reason why the three expressions should not be retained. In that connexion, he remarked that the terms “peace”, “order” and “good government” were to be found together in several federal Constitutions and expressing the same idea.

Three was a bit of discussion what words were best in each language, singe "general welfare" did not translate well to French ad litteram, so

Mr. Ordonneau (France) stated that the English expression “general welfare” was untranslatable and had very little meaning in French. It was in order to solve the translation difficulty that the French delegation had added “la morale” and “l’ordre publique” to the expression “bien-être général”, so as to cover everything that was contained in the English idea of “general welfare”.

The Soviet side wasn't too happy with this formulation:

Mr. Pavlov (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) emphasized that it was the laws of States that fixed the limits for the exercise of human rights and freedoms. He suggested, therefore, that the following phrase should be added to the text proposed by the Egyptian representative: “in accordance with the just requirements of the democratic State”.

Some Latin American countries preferred something else:

Mr. Fontaina (Uruguay) proposed to be guided by article 28 of the Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the Inter-American Conference at Bogotá, according to which the exercise of human rights was subject only to such limitations as were necessary in order to respect the rights of others, the security of all and the just requirements of the democratic State.

In the end, this was put to a vote

The USSR proposal was rejected by 11 votes to 4, with 1 abstention.

The Uruguayan proposal was rejected by 6 votes to 5, with 5 abstentions.

The text proposed by the Egyptian delegation for paragraph 2 of article 2 of the Declaration was adopted by 8 votes to 1, with 7 abstentions.

[...]

The basic objection to the USSR amendment was that if the phrase “and also the corresponding requirements of the democratic State” were adopted, the impression would be created that the State was higher than morality, public order and general welfare and had absolute rights which were not conditioned by the requirements of the latter.

New Zealand objected to a longer enumeration than just "general welfare", saying that "public order" was often invoked by non-democratic states, but seemingly that did not carry enough weight.

although the New Zealand delegation no doubt interpreted the phrase “general welfare” in the widest sense, other delegations had expressed the view that it was open to a somewhat narrower and materialistic interpretation. [...] Mr. Aikman (New Zealand) [then] withdrew his amendment (A/C.3/267) to delete the words “morality, public order and the” from the text of paragraph 2.

So that was kind it. The text was moved around several times, it was at one point [E/CN.4/148/Add.1] in article 27. At some point

it had been understood that all reservations and limitations in respect of human rights would be contained in article 27

rather than spread them around to caveats on individual articles. (France said on record they'd vote against caveats added piecemeal to other articles.)

I think they introduced more articles then, which pushed it to 29. In fact, at one point it was article 30, they then deleted one.

All quotes from the travaux préparatoires as collected in the Cambridge University Press 3-volume set (2013). (The UN is supposed to have these online, but their links are broken ATM.)

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  • the above answer seems to point a very broad picture of what would be allowed by this clause. in the sense that the claim seems to be that any restriction is permissable as long as it is democratically elected and/or for public morals. is this true ?
    – user45449
    Mar 23, 2023 at 17:50
  • @IndianLawApplicant, you can't think of such an international declaration the same way you think of national law, or even specific international treaties (e.g. CITES).
    – o.m.
    Mar 23, 2023 at 18:12
  • @o.m. I'm not sure what you mean. as in isn't the only difference that this isn't binding ?
    – user45449
    Mar 23, 2023 at 18:19
  • @IndianLawApplicant: o.m. probably means that given its brevity, a declaration like UDHR cannot go into details on the balancing. The fact that the caveats in that article could be too broadly interpreted was noticed by others during the drafting too, incl. Australia and the Netherlands representative. But such are the limitations of this class of texts. Mar 23, 2023 at 18:24
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    @IndianLawApplicant, a very specific declaration would never be agreed internationally because most countries would find some detail that is objectionable to them. A vague declaration can be passed and then develop political momentum (or not, as it may be). Follow the news reports of the UN climate conferences. The delegations hammer out a compromise most can live with, which will be too little, too late, but also better than nothing.
    – o.m.
    Mar 23, 2023 at 19:10

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