UDHR@75: Recognition Before the Law

Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

This blog forms part of a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Recognising the numerous conflicts and the daily breaches of human rights taking place across the globe, this series aims to highlight both the challenges and the opportunities to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights elaborated in the UDHR.




Recognition Before the Law 

Article 6 of the UDHR

‘Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.’

Article 6 is beautiful in its simplicity and profoundly important. It underpins all other rights within the UDHR. It is premised upon two interconnected ideas, that a person retains their humanity and the protection of human rights regardless of where they are on our planet, transcending borders; and that everyone is entitled to recognition as a person before the law.

A person has human rights, no matter where they are. Whether you are a ‘tourist, a student, a refugee or an immigrant,’ Article 6 brooks no distinctions upon the basis of nationality, citizenship or statelessness. Where human rights are premised upon nationality or citizenship, they are often denied to entire groups of people due to ethnicity and religion, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. Statelessness becomes an unwanted gift of disenfranchisement, passed down to the next generation.

Historically, a denial of personhood in the law has been the handmaiden perpetuating the slave trade, colonialism, and the annihilation of indigenous peoples and their way of life; utilised to exclude women, persons with disabilities or with mental health issues, children and victims of enforced disappearance such as those in Argentina, from the succour of the law.

Article 6 underpins all other rights within the UDHR. It is the foundation upon which a person can hold rights such as equality within marriage (Article 16), own and dispose of property (Article 17), have their privacy and bodily integrity respected (Article 12) and rely upon their rights and seek redress when they are violated (Article 8). A denial of personhood before the law, means that a person no longer has rights, but is dependent upon charity, a state of vulnerability and likely servitude.

As a human rights lawyer, having represented people, who the law has historically denied personhood to – women, children, persons with physical disabilities and mental health issues; this is an article of faith for me.


As part of the GJA UDHR@75 celebration, we invited present and past students to contribute their personal reflections on the relevance of the UDHR today. This blog is by Smita Shah. Smita is a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh, examining how child fair trial rights are implemented by military courts. She has practised as family law and international human rights law barrister at Garden Court Chambers, UK.

[1] Article 16 ICCPR, Article 15(2) CEDAW, Article 24 of Convention on Migrant workers, Article 12 on Convention of Rights of persons with disabilities, and Article 5 of African Charter, linked to slavery.

[2] Shah, S ‘The Legal Status of Intersex Persons in India and the Decision of the Supreme Court of India’  in (Eds) Jens M. Scherpe, Anatol Dutta, Tobias Helms The Legal Status of Intersex Persons, (Intersentia 2018)