Article Title

“Color” in the Non-Discrimination Provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Two Covenants

Publication Title

Washington University Global Studies Law Review


The United Nations Charter declares in its opening article that one of the purposes of the United Nations is to promote respect for human rights “without distinction as to” any of four grounds: race, sex, language, or religion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), adopted three years later, expands the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination and proclaims that everyone is entitled to human rights “without distinction of any kind, such as” the following: “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Numerous international and regional human rights treaties adopted after the Universal Declaration reproduce the UDHR’s list virtually verbatim in their non-discrimination clauses, and therefore include “color” in addition to “race” among the prohibited grounds of discrimination. These clauses usually appear near the very beginning of the treaty, thereby emphasizing the importance of the non-discrimination principle

What led the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to add “color” to its non-discrimination clause, rather than just adopt the language from the UN Charter is an important question considering its inclusion in so many other documents. This paper examines the drafting history behind that development. It then addresses “color” in the two treaties that grew out of the UDHR and which, together with that instrument, form the International Bill of Human Rights: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Article concludes with an overview of some of the key features of those treaties that can be used to address discrimination on the basis of color.