Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White

12 December 1947 [Geneva]

Dear Mr. White,

The sub-committee on Implementation is already considering the suggestions in your telegram.7

                                   Sincerely yours,

                                  Eleanor Roosevelt


1. Memorandum from White to Messrs. Chalmers, Lewis, Spingarn, and Tobias, 17 November 1947, WEBDP, UMAWEB.

2. When the President's Committee on Civil Rights released its report, To Secure These Rights, October 29, it immediately overshadowed Du Bois's Appeal. Upon its release, White hailed the government's report as "the most courageous and specific document of its kind in American history" (Memorandum from Walter White to W. E. B. Du Bois, 18 November 1947, WEBDP, UMAWEB; Anderson, 107).

3. W. E. B. Du Bois to Walter White, 24 November 1947, WEBDP, UMAWEB; Lewis, 529-30; Janken, 309.

4. Jonathan Daniels (1902–1981), son of FDR's ambassador to Mexico, Josephus Daniels, and a former editor of the Raleigh, North Carolina, News and Observer, served as the US delegate to the UN's Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. During his tenure as editor of the News and Observer, Daniels criticized discriminatory practices in the South and established himself as a leading southern liberal. Although he personally believed that To Secure These Rights and the NAACP's Appeal demonstrated that the United States was "unable or unwilling to … do anything effective about" its race problem, he refused to allow the USSR to capitalize on the NAACP's interest in publicizing racial tensions in the United States. During the sub-commission meetings held in the last week of November 1947, Daniels repeatedly argued that To Secure These Rights revealed the deep commitment of the highest levels of the US government to fighting for racial equality. Using the NAACP's Appeal, Alexander Borisov, the Soviet delegate, continually hammered at America's shortcomings and introduced a resolution that would have served as a public rebuke of the United States. Daniels's argument that race relations in the United States were an American problem that the American government was working to improve convinced the sub-commission to reject the Soviet resolution. In his criticism of Daniels's position, White quoted the New York Times of November 26, which reported:

The most concrete proposal of the United States was for the establishment of a 'Small Committee' of three members to offer assistance to the governments against which complaints are lodged with the United Nations for violations of the rights of individuals or minorities.

None of the members of the Small Committee would be nationals of the state affected or of any neighboring state. Any government declaring a problem to be purely internal would have the right to refuse the committee's assistance.

Daniels resented White's criticism and believed that White and Du Bois were "damning me up and down the street in connection with the meeting," in order "to cover … [their] embarrassment … that their petition was used as a political weapon by our Russian friends" (Les Ledbetter, "Jonathan Daniels Is Dead at 79," NYT, 7 November 1981, 31; Michael L. Hoffman, "U.S. Offers Plans on Human Rights," NYT, 26 November 1947, 7; "Intolerance Crime Issue in U.N. Group," NYT, 29 November 1947, 2; Anderson, 105-11). See n6 below for the actual text of Daniels's proposal.

5. During the HRC's first session in January and February 1946, Colonel William Roy Hodgson, the representative from Australia, proposed that the commission establish an International Court of Human Rights, which could receive petitions from individuals, nongovernmental organizations, and states. Sharing Du Bois's view, he argued that the "Commission should not confine itself to abstractions but was bound to consider immediately effective machinery for implementing Human Rights." As HRC chair, ER voiced the State Department's view that "the establishment of machinery for international supervision of human rights … cannot be an immediate objective of the Commission on Human Rights." Although Hodgson and Hansa Mehta of India insisted on establishing machinery for implementation immediately, the majority of delegates agreed with ER that the question of implementation should be addressed only after the creation of a bill of rights (Morsink 15-16; Glendon, 38; Anderson, 97; "U.N. Blocks Court for Human Rights," NYT, 6 February 1947, 5).

6. The clause in question reads as follows:

If the state concerned in the alleged discrimination or oppression advises the Small Committee that it regards the matter as one essentially within its domestic jurisdiction, the Committee should report this fact, and, pending further guidance from the Commission [on Human Rights], or the Subcommission [on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities], should refrain from taking any action or making any recommendation in the nature of "intervention" ("Procedure for Handling 'Urgent Problems,'" Submitted by Jonathan Daniels to the Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, 24 November 1947, [E/CN.4/SUB.2/12], UNORGA, MWelC).

7. Although the HRC had voted to move ahead on the drafting of a declaration during its first session, delegates resumed their calls for effective means of implementation at the commission's sec-ond session in Geneva. The commission agreed to a compromise proposed by Fernand Dehousse of Belgium so the HRC established three working groups to deal with the declaration, the convention, and implementation separately. Chaired by Hansa Mehta of India, the working group on implementation presented its report to the full commission on December 15, 1947. The proposal included provisions for the creation of a standing "Committee of Experts" comprised of at least five individuals who would receive and review petitions, as well as for the establishment of an unspecified international tribunal to hear cases. Colonel William Hodgson of Australia, now backed by Dehousse, still insisted on establishing a new International Court of Human Rights, but other delegates believed a subsidiary of the International Court of Justice might be an adequate body for hearing cases. After a debate over the limits of national sovereignty in which the Soviet bloc (Byelorussia, Ukraine, the USSR, and Yugoslavia) defended state sovereignty as "the oldest democratic principle in the field of State relations," the commission voted 12 to 3 with 1 abstention to send the report to ECOSOC and the governments of UN member nations for review and feedback. ER voted in favor of distributing the report, but she did not participate in the debate on state sovereignty (Glendon, 86-87; Summary Record of the Thirty-Eighth Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, Second Session, 15 December 1947, E/CN.4/SR.38, UND, MWelC; Summary Record of Thirty-Ninth Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, Second Session, 15 December 1947, E/CN.4/SR.39, UND, MWelC). For the HRC's decision to continue drafting a declaration and address implementation at a later date, see n3 above.

Presenting the US Position on Drafting the Declaration and Covenants

When the drafting committee convened in June, the United States, despite its earlier objections, favored the simultaneous preparation of both a declaration and covenant on human rights. At the end of the committee meeting, drafts of both documents had been completed. However, that same month Robert Lovett, who opposed both a declaration and a covenant, became undersecretary of state.

In July, ER asked to meet with Warren Austin, chief of the American delegation, to review the US position on the declaration and the covenant (see Document 238). Concerned that the covenant could not withstand attacks by Senate segregationists and that Lovett could derail both documents, ER then suggested to Austin that he meet with Senators Vandenberg and Connally to determine where they stood on the two issues and then arrange for the senators to meet with Lovett. By the end of their meeting, ER agreed with Austin that priority should be given to drafting the declaration, followed by the preparation of one or more legally binding conventions.

At the Human Rights Commission's first session December 2, ER opened the meeting by asking the HRC if they should focus on drafting a declaration, a convention, or both. After hearing from several of the delegates, she made the following statement on behalf of the United States. Her statement reflects Lovett's reservations about a convention; however, within the State Department, ER continued to argue the case for a convention.1

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White