Eleanor Roosevelt

Making Human Rights Come Alive - March 30, 1949

Eleanor Roosevelt
March 30, 1949— New York City
Speech To Pi Lambda Theta, Columbia University
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We worked as eighteen representatives of Government on the Human Rights Commission. We are very happy to know that UNESCO accepted the first fruits of our labor and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You know what it will mean if all the various Commissions of UNESCO really help to tell the people of the various countries about this document. It is an educational document because it is simply a declaration that sets standards and puts down things for which we want to strive. It has no legal binding value, but it is a preparation for the coming bill of rights. When the Covenant is written, then we will have to be prepared to ask our various nations to ratify that covenant and to accept the fact that the Covenant has legal binding value.

Now, of course, the first Covenant will probably be a very simple document. It will probably not contain all the things that are in the Declaration, because in the Declaration we could write some aspirations, but nevertheless we know quite well that we will go on. Perhaps the first Covenant will not cover all the things that we will want to have covered in the future. We will keep our minds open and we will be prepared to meet new needs and new circumstances as they arise, but we have to make a beginning, and the beginning can only be made if we really make the Declaration a living document, something that is not just words on paper but something which we really strive to bring to the lives of all people, all people everywhere in the world.

Study the Document

Now to do that we, all of us, will have to study this document. We will have to understand how it came to be written, why certain things are in it. I think perhaps the best way to explain to you how difficult a universal document is to put down on paper, the best way to explain that to you is to tell you a little about what happened in Committee III of the General Assembly in Paris, when we presented as a result of the Human Rights Commission's work over a period of two and a half years that document that we thought was quite a good piece of work, over which we thought possibly there might be some discussion but not too much, and we were to find that there was going to be a great deal of discussion, so much discussion that at one point I thought perhaps we would never get agreement.

M. Laugier, out of his wisdom, said, "This is very valuable. People who discuss as much as this over ideas are going home to talk about them afterwards." I hope that he was right, because that is the way this document will come to mean something in the lives of people all over the world.

I will take the first three Articles and tell you a little about them. In Committee III there are quite a number of women who sit as delegates. I imagine that you know that that is a good committee on which to put women! In the first place, they are naturally interested in humanitarian questions, but in addition, I think some of the members of our delegations believe, we might not do so well if we were put in the political committees or legal committees. We really might get into trouble, so Committee III has quite a number of women.

Right away they saw something in our document that we brought to them which we had not given much thought to. As we presented the document, it was perhaps a little too Anglo-Saxon, a little too much like the American Declaration. It said "all men" in the beginning of a great many paragraphs; the final Article reads, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

After I got home I received a letter from a gentleman who said, "How could you as the United States Delegate vote for Article I of the Universal Declaration when it is not like our Declaration?"

Now I will tell you how I could. The women on Committee III--and remember there were 58 representatives of governments in Committee III, not 18-58--and the women said " 'All men,' oh, no. In this document we are not going to say 'all men' because in some of our countries we are just struggling to recognition and equality. Some of us have come up to the top but others have very little equality and recognition and freedom. If we say 'all men,' when we get home it will be 'all men.'" So you will find in this Declaration that it starts with "all human beings" in Article I, and in all the other Articles is says "everyone," "no one." In the body of the Article it occasionally says "his," because to say "his or hers" each time was a little awkward, but it is very clearly understood that this applies to all human beings.

I want to tell you that to pass the first three Articles in Committee III took four weeks and a great deal of argument, a great deal of real feeling was expressed.

Words in Different Languages

Perhaps one of the things that some of us learned was that in an international document you must try to find words that can be accepted by the greatest number of people. Not the words you would choose as the perfect words, but the words that most people can say and that will accomplish the ends you desire, and will be acceptable to practically everyone sitting round the table, no matter what their background, no matter what their beliefs may be. So that's what happened to us.

In the next few words of Article I you will notice that instead of saying: "All men are created equal," it says: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

Now, I happen to believe that we are born free and equal in dignity and rights because there is a divine Creator, and there is a divine spark in men. But, there were other people around the table who wanted it expressed in such a way that they could think in their particular way about this question, and finally, these words were agreed upon because they stated the fact that all men were born free and equal, but they left it to each of us to put in our own reason, as we say, for that end.

There is one other word that I want to tell you about because it cost us a great deal of time, and it illustrates one of the difficulties of writing a document of this kind. It is in Article II which reads:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing, or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Now, the word we had so much difficulty about was the word "birth" in the first paragraph. Our Russian colleague was making a speech, stating something he wished to have included in the Article, but he and the translator had a different opinion as to the way his idea was translated, and he stopped and said "That translation is wrong. It does not say what I mean." So he was finally asked if he would explain what he wanted to express. And he said that he wanted to say in French the word "etat"; in English the word "estate." There is no distinction of any kind such as "etat." Well, Professor Cassin, who is the Delegate of France and a very distinguished and interested delegate on the Human Rights Commission, said: "I am afraid that wouldn't mean a great deal today. There was a time when it might have meant something in France. It was 'etat,' but today I don't think it would be very meaningful to people in my country." I said: "Well, I don't think the word 'estate' would mean a great deal to people in the English-speaking countries."

So, our Russian colleague said he would accept the word "class," and that I didn't like very much. I said: "I think in many countries we're getting away from the use of that word, and it would be a mistake to write it in a universal document." So, finally, after long discussion we settled on the word "birth" as a translation that our Russian colleague would accept and I thought that was all settled. But then our China colleague, who, perhaps, is more interested in the English language even than we who call it our mother tongue, Dr. P. C. Chang of China, decided that since we were going to put the word "birth" it should come after the word "race" and should read: "without distinction of any kind such as race, birth, colour, sex," etc.

Our Russian colleague would have none of it; that was not the right place. We argued for a long while, and finally it was put after "property." Then for a reason that I have never been able to understand, our Russian colleague sat back apparently feeling that he had gained a complete victory--that it now meant something that it had not meant before, and was perfectly satisfied and voted for that Article. Of course, in the end he abstained on the whole Declaration.

That is a very good illustration of one of the difficulties of translation; one of the difficulties of really understanding what is going on in the minds of other people; because to this day I don't really know why that was a victory. Perhaps you do, M. Laugier, but I never have understood. Someday I hope to understand, but I never have.

And so I think these three things all give you an idea of some of the difficulties of writing documents which is to mean something to a great many different peoples at different points of development, with different religious beliefs, and different legal systems, and with habits and customs that vary very greatly.

UNESCO Will Help Us Gain Peace

Now, UNESCO is going to help us all to understand each other better. It is going to do the work that I feel really needs to be done to teach us more about what makes man the kind of animal he is. Man has learned to use nature very well, to control it very well. He has learned a number of secrets which are nature's secrets. But he hasn't learned a great deal about himself, and that is probably what UNESCO is going to help us all to achieve; and, perhaps, one of the best ways will be in really making people understand why human rights and freedoms are one of the foundations on which we hope to build peace. Peace isn't going to just drop on us all of a sudden. We have machinery in the United Nations which we can use, if we will, to help us create an atmosphere in which peace may grow, but we will have to work to keep that machinery doing its job. And the study of human rights, the acceptance of human rights and freedoms, may be one of the foundation stones in giving us an atmosphere in which we can all grow together towards a more peaceful world.

Precedents in Laws

I remember very well when Professor Rene Cassin in the early days of our discussion in the Human Rights Commission, suggested an article. It is not now in the words that he used in first suggesting it, though the idea is in that direction. I have often thought of it because it not only illustrated the difficulties of different legal systems, but it also illustrated the belief which many of the representatives in our Commission had, that certain things must never happen again because they had been one of the causes that brought on World War II. I will tell you about it because I think it is interesting. His suggestion was that we have an article that would read in French, "Personne ne doit etre prive de sa personalite juridique," and I, without any legal knowledge, translated it into English as "No one shall be deprived of their juridical personality."

Well, I didn't know what I had started. Behind my back, where lawyers sit from the departments in Washington, there was a storm. They all said, "There is no such expression as 'juridical personality' in English or American law." And all the United Kingdom gentlemen who were lawyers put their heads together and said "No" very firmly at me. So I knew that I hadn't gotten the right word. Behind my back they kept arguing, saying what it means is "without due process of law," but how do you say it? Well, it took a long while to argue that out and finally one day one of my Department of Justice youngish lawyers handed me a piece of paper and said, "You can accept the translation 'juridical personality,' it was once used in American law."

And when do you think it was used? It was used in the Dred Scott case when Justice Taney said "a slave has no juridical personality." So I accepted it.

There was no trouble at all with any of the Latin American countries, all of which accepted the French idea quite happily because they had the same system of law. The trouble lay with the Anglo-Saxon people, and finally our United Kingdom delegate said that it didn't mean anything in English law, but he couldn't think of any better expression, so for the time being, he would accept it. Professor Cassin himself finally thought of something better in the way of wording and the idea is in the document, though the words are changed. But I always felt that it was a very good illustration of some of the difficulties that came up on the legal side.

There Are No Guarantees

We had a very good illustration of our difficulties from a different point of view between the U.S.S.R. and ourselves. Their chief amendments were two: one was to come at the end of many articles and say "these rights" whatever they might be, "are guaranteed by the state." That was a kind of national implementation which many of us thought very unwise and so it was not accepted, but it gave the U.S.S.R. a reason for abstaining in the end because they said there was no way for any of the things that were written here to be guaranteed, which is completely true. There is no way. It is an educational declaration and the only way we can guarantee that these rights will be observed is by doing a good job educationally. People really strive to have their governments and their people understand that these are the kind of rights that give dignity to man, and, therefore, they insist that they be observed.

Now, we have great belief, I think, in the force of documents which do express ideals. We think that, in themselves, they carry weight. But they carry no weight unless the people know them, unless the people understand them, unless the people demand that they be lived. And perhaps Article 2 is one of the articles that we, in this country, and in most of the democracies, should think about, but perhaps it is more important for us in the United States because we have to recognize that there are two ideas that must live side by side in the world.

Well, the only way that they can live in the same world is for the recognition of their equal strength to come about. At present, the U.S.S.R. is quite convinced that their idea is stronger than the democratic idea.

They feel quite sure that what they have to offer in their attitude of equality of all races, of a kind of economy which they consider gives greater equality than other types of economy in the world, of a kind of political government which they say is government by workers for workers they are quite sure that if they make those promises there are masses of people in the world who will feel that they are better promises than we of the democracies can make, and that is why they single out over and over again the United States and the United Kingdom for attack--the United Kingdom on colonial policies, the United States on racial policies, the way we treat minorities--because there is no better forum for propaganda than the United Nations.

The United Nations Is a Forum

You are talking in every committee to the representatives, in the last meeting of 58 nations, in the next I think of 60 nations. That is quite a forum! There are quite a number of people that can hear what you are saying and you cannot blame the U.S.S.R. for feeling that they are offering what they feel will appeal to the people throughout the world who have perhaps not felt that they were on a basis of equality, who have perhaps felt that their economic security was a little insecure. There are a good many peoples of the world who have often been not only one day away from starvation but actually have starvation among them, and yet they have seen a few people who still have a good deal.

So this offering--it is only promises, of course--and that is another thing we must remember. The U.S.S.R. can make promises because very few people get in to verify what they promise, but the United States, the United Kingdom, the other democracies, they are all open to inspection, so it is very easy to find out what actually goes on, and that is one of the reasons why it is so important that we in the democracies make human rights and freedom a reality. It is true that these very words that are in Article 2 have been in our own Bill of Rights, but we felt it was a domestic question. We had plenty of time. We could set our house in order when we felt the time had arrived. We could have a little more time for education. We could let people gradually grow out of their prejudices. Now it is a part of the great question of whether democracy or communism really offers most to the people of the world. It is no longer a domestic question. It is an international question, and for that reason you can't wait any longer. You are open for inspection.

We Are Inspected

Nothing ever happens in any part of the United States that, if we are in session, whether it is the Human Rights Commission or the General Assembly, that wherever I am sitting the U.S.S.R. delegate doesn't manage somehow to tell the story of what has happened, and then he will turn to me and say, "Is that what you consider democracy, Mrs. Roosevelt?" And I am sorry to say that quite often I have to say, "No, that isn't what I consider democracy. That's a failure of democracy, but there is one thing in my country: we can know about our failures and those of us who care can work to improve our democracy!"

You see, there is one very interesting thing. Communism is perfect! I have never heard one of the U.S.S.R. delegates say that there was anything that could be improved! Now that is interesting about something which still remains human, because human things are rarely perfect, but I have never heard one U.S.S.R. delegate acknowledge that you could improve something in communism.

Another thing which is interesting is that all through the Declaration the value of economic and social rights is emphasized. The U.S.S.R. delegates fought for those and many of their suggestions are included in those articles, but they still abstain on the whole from the Declaration. They fought for those economic and social rights because to them those are the really important things. They never offer anybody freedom and I have often wondered whether those who listened to their promises ever noticed that freedom was left out.

Conceptions of Freedom

The interesting thing is that they are quite safe in doing so because many of the peoples to whom they talk don't know the meaning of freedom as we know it. In Japan, for instance, freedom only means license. There was no character in the Japanese language which meant freedom as we understand it, so that when we tried to explain what freedom meant, they had to evolve a new character, because when they speak of a child who acted with complete irresponsibility and complete license, they said he was acting with freedom.

That is something we must remember, because when you argue with Mr. Vishinsky, he will say there is no such thing as absolute freedom, and of course you and I know that is true. All freedom is conditioned by the freedom of other people, but nevertheless there is for human beings something very precious, which we know as freedom, the freedom to help govern ourselves, the freedom to help develop the future. These are very important things for us, more important perhaps than the actual assurance by the state of certain economic and social rights.

Now I am going to read you just one Article, because it will explain to you why it was impossible for the U.S.S.R. to vote in favor of this document, and it will show you the cleavage in thought which somehow, some day, we have to bridge. We are not going to bridge it right away. It is going to take time, but the understanding of it is necessary before we can begin to decide how we can work. The Article is one of freedom of movement. It reads:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.

The amendment they wanted to that was:

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country according to the laws of his country.

That would have meant that the law said you couldn't leave your country without permission of the government.

Naturally, in discussion it was brought out that many countries have regulations. I have to pay my income tax; I have to take the little piece of paper from my doctor saying when I was vaccinated. I must have been vaccinated within the last three years or I can't come back. But when that is done, I can leave and come back, and I can move anywhere within my own country and can do it when I wish, and I can settle where I wish.

After defeat of the amendment, I went over to talk to Mr. Pavlov, and I said: "Mr. Pavlov," (I should say that he speaks French very well) "do you see no difference between the regulations which my country puts on freedom of movement, and the regulations of the U.S.S.R. which forbid a citizen to leave without permission from his government, and to give no permission?" He looked at me and he said: "All regulations are the same." Now that is a very interesting thing because that is a good illustration of where we think differently.

Now, I don't expect that gulf to be bridged for a long while. But I do feel that we can reach the point where we can live in the same world, but I think the only way we will reach it is if we show in the democracies that our beliefs are as strong; that we intend to crusade just as much as they do, and that we are as determined that all human beings shall eventually have the rights and freedoms set forth in this document, and that we are not going to be intimidated; neither are we going to be despondent.

I think they count on wearing out our patience, on making us feel that it is hopeless, on getting us discouraged to the point where we will give up and decide that there is no way to live in the same world. The day we do that we have lost, and I hope, therefore, that we will concentrate on making our own selves, our own communities, our own country, the real democracy that we have given lip service to for so many years. And in doing that, that we will be the spearhead and the spiritual and moral leader of all the other democracies that really want to see human rights and human freedoms made the foundation of a just and peaceful world.

For Better World Understanding

In the United Nations we are trying to work for better world understanding. You would feel, I am sure, that we in the United Nations ought to find the answers. I agree that we ought to, since we have delegates from so many nations. There were fifty-eight delegates at the last meeting in Paris, and there are going to be sixty at the next meeting. That makes a good many delegates in the General Assembly, for each delegation is composed of five delegates, five alternates, and quite a number of advisers. You get to know and to talk to many people from different countries. And this, perhaps, ought to give us the answers on how to promote world understanding. But I confess that at each meeting I learn something new. Surprising facts are thrust upon me that I had never thought of before. So I have come to feel that one of our troubles is lack of awareness of the differences between peoples.

I will illustrate for you by something that happened to me in Paris. I have always been assigned to Committee III. That is the committee that deals with education, cultural, and humanitarian subjects. When I was first put on this Committee, I felt quite sure that one reason for the assignment was that our delegation was worried about having a woman as one of the delegates. They said, "Committee III--that's safe. She can't do anything there." Sometimes I think it has not been quite as safe as they thought it would be at the beginning. But I want to get back to my story, because it illustrates the points of our difficulty in understanding. The Committee was discussing, at the last meeting in Paris, the Declaration of Human Rights. On my right, since we sit alphabetically, was the delegate from Uruguay, and he was making many objections and giving many legal arguments. I thought, in order to save time, the delegate from Chile, who sat in the Commission on Human Rights, might explain some things to him, so I asked Mr. S. if he would have a talk with the delegate from Uruguay and explain certain things to him. He looked at me and said.

"I have been on the Human Rights Committee for quite some time and have become accustomed to this document, and you must let him become accustomed to it because it is an Anglo-Saxon document."

"But," I protested, "It is the result of eighteen nations and they were not all Anglo-Saxon nations."

He insisted, "It still is an Anglo-Saxon document. In time, the delegate from Uruguay will grow accustomed to it, but just now he is very much shocked, just as I was when I first read it."

I had been thinking that it was a joint document which we had produced and I was sure there were a great many things in it that were not the result of Anglo-Saxon thinking. You see how unaware we are of the fact that other nations think of things that come up in terms of not representing their thinking, or their type of law, or their type of religious feeling, and, as my Chilean colleague said, it had taken him time to grow accustomed to it but finally he began to agree with the strange ideas that were Anglo-Saxon. I don't know whether it should always be just that way, for certainly sometimes we should become accustomed to thinking in their terms, as well as having them thinking in our terms. That flow backwards and forwards of ideas and understanding is one of the great contributions of the United Nations, but it isn't the only thing that must take place before we get to the bottom of what it is that divides people. The increase of intellectual understanding, the exchange of ideas, and the gradual coming to see what affects other people on the intellectual levels is very important, but there are other things, too.

I have thought a great deal, of course, about our first and most important difficulty, which is the U.S.S.R. I suppose you read what their delegates say to us. They say: "Perhaps in the military and economic sense you have the upper hand." (They never say, "We have . . ." they say "perhaps.") "But time is on our side. We can afford to wait, because our ideas are much stronger than yours; our ideas, our belief in communism, are going to gain the world. It makes a great appeal because we believe in basic human rights. We believe that all races, all people are equal; we believe that men and women are equal."

The Committee gets long dissertations about that equality and occasionally it will cause a funny incident to occur. One day we had listened for one hour to a gentleman talk on the equality of men and women in the U.S.S.R. A little later, he happened to accept an invitation to lunch with us that day. The Russians will seldom accept an invitation without another member of their delegation going along, but he came alone. At the table some remark was made and he turned to me and said, "That is just women's gossip," and I said, "Oh, no, if men and women are completely equal then there is no more 'women's gossip!' If you really believe they are equal in the U.S.S.R., then you must not say it is women's gossip; it is men and women's gossip."

He looked at me and said not another word.

When they state what they believe, they are very sure of their philosophy of equality, and they state it so simply that they are certain that the downtrodden people of the world will accept it much more easily than they will accept our democratic theories. They say, "Our government is a government of workers, for workers. Our economy is perhaps having a little hard time at present, but basically, as commodities increase, everybody will share alike. There will be none of this having a great deal for certain groups as you have in your decadent democracy; we will all share alike." That sounds simple, doesn't it? And, of course, there is something in what they say when one considers that they are offering these ideas to people who are perhaps, not more than a day away from famine. Nearly all of these people have seen small groups in their midst having a great deal and the masses having little, and to them these promises are very alluring. The question is whether people who are better off are willing to accept such promises with no proof. We Americans surely have difficulty making our promises sound as simple as theirs.

It is quite possible to know what goes wrong anywhere in our country, and those of us who really care can work to make our democracy better. Of course we cannot get in to see what happens in the U.S.S.R. and therefore it isn't profitable to make statements that can't be proved. I have had in my briefcase for two sessions a report from our embassy in the U.S.S.R. telling me a great many things which are probably true but are difficult to prove for no one has actually seen them. They are only hearsay. It is not our fault that we have not seen these things. We have not been allowed to see them. But I have never used that document.

In the last session of the 3rd Committee we had as a delegate, for a short time, from the United Kingdom, a young member of Parliament. This British delegate had sat through some pretty stiff attacks on the United Kingdom's colonial policy. There is never a time when we touch on the problems of a colonial country, that the U.S.S.R. goes not give us at least an hour of attack on the United Kingdom. I realized that our job was to get the Declaration of Human Rights accepted, and I knew that the U.S.S.R. would like very much to delay it so that we wouldn't have time to vote on it. Up to the time of the last meeting, they always abstained from voting, saying that they could not commit their government to an unfinished document, but at Paris it was a finished document, and it would be difficult to go home and say that they had abstained on a declaration of human rights. That was not going to be easy, so the delaying tactics were used to confuse us so that we would take longer. I am sorry to say that, unwittingly, a number of our other colleagues helped the delay. They were really interested in certain points and wanted to have a chance to talk them over. These colleagues were from the South American countries and they had a document on human rights in which they took great pride. They had the Declaration of Bogota and some of them were anxious, for reasons of pride, to have the same wording used in the universal declaration. Every time one of them would make a very long speech concerning this, it was amusing to watch one of the delegates from the U.S.S.R. or a satellite country go to him and say, "That was a most enlightening speech--wonderful--I hope tomorrow you will make another speech on some other point. We need enlightening." And it always meant tomorrow they made the other speech.

Also, the delegate from England couldn't take the constant attack on his country for all its colonial policies. The next day he spent one and a quarter hours answering the Russians, which of course he had to do. For if one fails to answer an accusation they were sure to say, "Oh, Mrs. Roosevelt did not answer yesterday, so of course what we said must be true." The United Kingdom delegate gave his rebuttal, which was fine, but he then proceeded to launch forth on an attack of the Russians which lasted well over an hour. If it had ended there, we could have spared the time, but instead we have two solid days, four full sessions, in which every member of the satellite states, as well as the U.S.S.R., answered the speech of the United Kingdom's delegate, and the U.S.S.R. could deny everything in it because it was hearsay; there was no complete proof. You can say that people who have come out of Russia have said certain things, but the U.S.S.R. can say that these people lie. Shortly after this incident, England sent a new delegate to serve on Committee III. This delegate was Mrs. Corbett Ashby. I immediately said to her, "Look, we have a declaration to get through. We have spent two days listening to attacks and the answers. Do you think it is more important to get the declaration through or to attack the U.S.S.R.?" While it is true that the Russians must be answered, Mrs. Ashby agreed that is was more important to get the Declaration of Human Rights through. By bringing the Declaration up for a vote, we would obligate the Russians to say why they had to abstain. This was more revealing for the rest of the world, and perhaps in the long run more revealing to them, than all the attacks we could have made. It certainly leaves less bitterness. I believe we must never compromise a principle. We must be very persistent, very patient, because we have a long way to go m understanding.

I was talking the other day to a very learned gentleman on how we could ever understand the U.S.S.R. He said, "Read Didemus," and I thought, "Oh, when will I get time to read Didemus, and why?" So I thought I had better ask honestly why I should read Didemus. He said, "Because all the rest of Europe received its civilization from Rome, but the Russians, from their first beginnings, drew their civilization from the Byzantines. You will find more explanation for Russia by going back to Byzantine thought than you will in trying to think of Russia as a part of the European scene." But I haven't had time to read Didemus. I am going to try, for I do know that there is a great deal for us to learn.

One thing that makes it hard to learn, is that we are never talking to people. You are always talking to government representatives who are saying what they were told to say. You never know what they think as individuals. Our delegation says what it thinks in the hope that it may be taken back to their country, for they have very extraordinary powers of memory and concentration, and I think they report very clearly.

You who are teachers probably understand some things that I am still groping about. I would like to know how it is possible for the Russian delegation toe work in the way it does. There is no other delegation whose leader always takes part in the final argument in the General Assembly. But their leader never fails to argue, not only the things that were argued in committee, but every single point that has been worked over in every committee. He displays a complete grasp of every detail and every single thing that has happened during the work of that committee. With us, the United Kingdom, and nearly all the other delegations, the delegates who clear the work in the committees are the ones who argue the points in the final General Assembly. But Mr. Vishinsky has argued for the U.S.S.R. every time....

The Declaration of Human Rights was looked upon as so important because many people believed it to be one of the things on which we might build understanding in the future, if enough nations could agree on what the basic rights and freedoms were. Even though the Declaration has no legal binding value, it is a document to be used for education in preparation for a Covenant. The Covenant won't cover many things, but the Declaration includes the aspirations that we hope, in time, to achieve. It was written with the aim in view that all the countries that accepted it would make a study of its ideas.

We have even included a resolution asking the governments to see that schools and colleges become sufficiently familiar with the document to quote from it and to discuss it intelligently. It is quite true that it has no legal binding value and that is why some people say, "It is just words--more words--and we have plenty of words--why do we bother with more words?" Well, the Declaration is only half of the Bill of Rights. The second part of the Covenant, if accepted, must be ratified by each nation and that will have legal binding value as a treaty....

A criticism that is often made about this Declaration is that rights alone are set forth, but that with every right there goes a responsibility, and that those responsibilities are not set forth with each article. That was discussed for a very long time, and it was decided that, if you tried to set forth with each article all the responsibilities, it would make a very long and detailed document that would not have the same impact on people as a declaration that was shorter and more concise. After all, this is the Declaration of rights and freedoms, and so it was decided to have one article as a general over-all limitation and that reads--

Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone is 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. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

The feeling was that this article covered in a general way and would not detract from the really important thing which was to get down on paper, for people all over the world, with different backgrounds, customs, and stages of development, the basic idea that every individual had certain rights and freedoms that could not be taken away from him. It gave respect and importance to the individual, which is, of course, a basic tenet of democracy.

Now, I think, perhaps, you would be interested in the article on religion. We thought we had consulted most of the interested people who were represented by consultants in the Human Rights Commission. We found that one group had had no representation. They had never asked for it. But when it came to the final decision, that group differed among themselves as to the interpretation they could put on certain things in their own religious law, and they nearly voted against the whole Declaration because they did not think they could accept just one thing in this article. The article reads:

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.

And the group that had not asked for representation and with whom we had not consulted beforehand was the large group of Mohammedans, and they said, through their representatives in Committee m. "We can't accept that because in our religion you may not change your belief." Saudi Arabia stuck to that until the end. And Saudi Arabia abstained from voting. Pakistan changed. And the statement of the head of their whole delegation before the Assembly was as follows: "I think our delegate misinterpreted the Koran. The Koran says that 'he who will shall believe; he who cannot believe shall disbelieve.' The only unforgivable sin is to be a hypocrite!" I repeat this statement at every opportunity, for I think it is something all of us would do well to remember. He voted for the Declaration.


You might be interested in the article on education. There is one point in it that I regret very much and voted against, but it was included and I will tell you why when I have read it.

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. 3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

That number three was put in by the Catholic nations. They were very insistent on the right of the family and the right of parents. We realized that they said this because they aimed to prevent a repetition of Hitler's training of youth, and of course of the Communistic training of youth. On the other hand, this statement caused other difficulties to arise. For instance, I know families in my own country-area with whom one really had to fight to get them to allow their children to have more education than they themselves had had; I am not quite sure that always the parents' rights rather than the rights of children should be the permanent, final decision. I think the parents naturally have great rights. You couldn't educate children against the will of their parents along certain lines, but the children have a right to certain opportunities for education and should be allowed to take advantage of them. It was very difficult for me to accept paragraph 3, but I was outvoted. We had a full and complete argument, and it was easy to understand why anyone familiar with Hitler's youth training, and Communistic training today, should want to safeguard their children against it. You do have to adjust to different countries at different times and anything that is completely rigid will put us in a straight-jacket. This, after all, is just a statement of standards and aspirations and a very good document for us to become educated upon--but when you come to the Covenant it is going to be extremely difficult and extremely necessary for us to watch every single thing that we agree to.

I can't tell you much more, but I hope that I have given you some idea of some of the problems that come in writing international documents and some of the problems that exist when you start out to really achieve world understanding. I have a feeling that in practice this document will do a great deal for even those countries where it will not be published. It will not be published in any of the satellite countries, but, curiously enough, knowledge seems to seep through even Iron Curtains. And I can't help but believe that working together on some of these things and writing them down may be a good basis for beginning a little more understanding and confidence. Much of our difficulty today lies in our fears. We fear the Russians; they fear us. How you get away from fear, I don't know yet. I am hoping that if we can stay together, and work together, each year that we live we perhaps will build a little more confidence and destroy a little of the fear.

All of you who are going to teach the next generation--the generation that is going to live with this when we are dead--can perhaps teach them the willingness to be patient, to experiment, to believe in human beings even when they seem so contrary and so difficult. I get so angry sometimes with my U.S.S.R. colleagues. Then each time that I do, I say to myself, "Remember that you really like these people as people. If you could meet them as people you would like them. So try to begin again with good will, with a sense of objectivity, of understanding why it is so hard for them.

They couldn't possibly accept this document because freedom of movement is one of the articles. They don't allow any freedom of movement. There are lots of things that they can't accept, and it will take them a long time. Children growing up today are going to live in a world that is a very adventurous world and not a very secure one. After all, many generations have lived that kind of life. It takes more character, more calm, but perhaps the challenge of today is the ability to stay in the United Nations and watch ourselves as the leading democratic nation of the world, a nation which all the world watches. If they can see that our beliefs are as strong as theirs and that we are not going backward, they might begin to live in the same world with us and make some compromises. That is almost as important as to have more military power and more economic power.

We have a difficult job because all of our failures are seen. At the same time, our successes are seen and, for that reason, I hope we are going to be strong enough, and imaginative enough, and take the future with enough spirit of adventure so that we will live it with joy and never grow hopeless. Never get a feeling that we cannot succeed, because I think with the help of all of you, and the help of many other people in our country, we can succeed. All we can do is pray that we will grow more tomorrow and that others will grow with us, and together we will be able to win a peaceful world."

Speech from http://gos.sbc.edu/r/eleanor1.html.