What Does Article 5 of the Violations of Human Rights Document Say?

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Article 5 was adopted along with the other 29 articles of the Declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1948.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the most important of several components of the International Bill of Human Rights. Other documents included the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and two optional Protocols. While the Universal Declaration was adopted in 1948, the International Bill was not completed until 1966 when the two Covenants were adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. In 1966, the General Assembly adopted the two detailed Covenants, which complete the International Bill of Human Rights. The Bill took force 10 years later after it had been ratified by the required number of countries.

Article 5, the Universal Declaration, and the International Bill all arose in the context and aftermath of World War II. The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire prompted the international community, led by the victorious Allies, to craft legally binding standards to prevent future similar actions.

Article 5 has been somewhat controversial in the 21st century. The wording of the article leaves some room for interpretation regarding what precisely qualifies as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Most notably, the CIA and, by extension, the Bush administration were criticized both internationally and domestically for their treatment of prisoners in the War on Terror.