Commission on Human Rights Summary Record Second Session, Twenty-Fifth Meeting [Excerpt]
Commission on Human Rights Summary Record2 Second Session, Twenty-Fifth Meeting [excerpt]
2 December 1947 [Geneva]
The Chairman said there had been a slight evolution in the United States' position with regard to the form which a Declaration on Human Rights should take. Her delegation thought that priority should be given to the draft Declaration, and that the latter should not be drawn up in such a way as to give the impression that Governments would have a contractual obligation to guarantee human rights. As regards the draft Convention or Conventions, the United States considered that the Commission should not proceed to draw them up until it was sure that such Conventions could be accepted and applied in all good faith by the participating States. Flagrant, prolonged and repeated violations of those Conventions could not fail to harm the United Nations. That did not mean, however, that her delegation would not be willing to examine the draft Convention or Conventions if the Commission so desired. The Commission should, however, take the time factor into account, and, if they had to make a choice, should first tackle the draft Declaration.
She hoped the United Kingdom representative was right in thinking that agreement could readily be reached on the draft Declaration, and that the Commission could then go on to study the draft Convention.3 Her delegation had proposed a draft Declaration which seemed to it the type of document at which the Commission should arrive.4 Finally, while emphasizing the primary importance of the Declaration, she was prepared for one or more draft Conventions to be drawn up, which could be adopted as soon as possible.5
TSumex RM:UND, MWelC
1. For ER's ongoing discussions with Lovett and other members of the State Department on this subject, see Document 294 and Document 295.
2. HRC, Second Session, Summary Record, Twenty-Fifth Meeting, (E/CN.4/SR.25), 10, MWelC (RM).
3. The British, unlike the Americans, gave first priority to the drafting of a convention and had submitted a draft international bill of rights (E/CN.4/AC.1/4) in the form of a legally binding document rather than a declaration of principles. They hoped that if a declaration were to be drafted at all, it could be done quickly so that there would be time to draft the convention. Lord Dukeston (Charles Dukes), the British representative on the HRC, argued that "A declaration could hardly deal with anything but very general principles, already embodied in the Charter. If the Commission confined itself to producing such a declaration without any means of enforcement it would produce a text too vague to be of real value." He urged that the HRC "proceed immediately to drafting a Convention binding the signatory Governments so that it would be possible to set up machinery for appeal in the event of their not respecting their undertakings." He said the British were only willing to consider a draft declaration if a convention were drafted afterwards. "A Declaration was nothing more than a document of propaganda. He recognized the difficulties involved in drafting conventions, but that was what the world needed today" (Morsink, 8; HRC, Second Session, Summary Record, Twenty-fifth Meeting, [E/CN.4/SR.25], 5-6, 11, MWelC RM).
4. The United States had submitted a draft declaration that paralleled the one prepared by the HRC drafting committee but contained alternative wording and occasionally organized the rights differently (HRC, Parallel Passages in Human Rights Drafting Committee Text and United States Proposal, 26 November 1947 [E/CN.4/36/Add.2], AERP; HRC, Proposal for a Declaration of Human Rights Submitted by the Representative of the United States on the Commission of Human Rights, 26 November 1947 [E/CN.4/36], AERP).
5. In her December 8 My Day column, ER reported on the outcome of the discussions in the HRC regarding the declaration and the convention:
In several long sessions there was careful discussion of whether the Human Rights Commission was to write a bill which could actually be presented to the General Assembly—but which of course would not have legal weight, since it would not require ratification and implementation from the various nations—or both a bill and a declaration. Our own position as a government has been that on the drafting committee's report we should have sufficient material available to do a fairly finished job as regards a declaration. But many countries like our own would have to consider most carefully the points covered in a convention.
For instance, our government must remember the matter of states rights and decide just how far it can go. Other governments have similar considerations, but we felt it would have a moral value to finish and circulate a declaration even though we might only be able to set down certain principles which we felt could be included in a covenant or a convention.
This was unacceptable, however, to the majority of the other nations present. They felt that the world is expecting a definite commitment which would force the governments to change their laws, if necessary, to conform to an international bill or covenant, and they wished that to be considered first, or at least simultaneously with a declaration. This finally passed, and three working groups have been appointed on each of these subjects. As soon as possible, they will be asked to report to the plenary session (MD, 8 December 1947).
At the conclusion of the Human Rights Commission she returned to the subject again, this time stating explicitly that a human rights convention would challenge laws in the United States. See Document 291.
Reviewing the Commission's Work with the Press
As the full Human Rights Commission prepared to review final drafts of the declaration on human rights, ER held a press conference to discuss its work to date. The New York Times covered it.