John Foster Dulles to Eleanor Roosevelt

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John Foster Dulles to Eleanor Roosevelt

15 June 1948 [New York City]

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

In view of your telephone inquiry to me of last Saturday, I have tried to inform myself a little through Mr. Sandifer and Mr. Henrick2 as to the status of the matter. I have put down some thoughts to which I have come, but which I hope you will consider as very tentative. I do not have your great background of experience with this matter, and I am reluctant out of my relative ignorance to proffer suggestions. If you do not agree with them, I am confident that when we dine together tomorrow you will be able to convince me that you are right and I am wrong.

                                       Sincerely yours,


It is my suggestion that the following course with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms might be adopted:

1. The Economic and Social Council should submit to the next regular meeting of the Assembly a report which would (a) transmit the draft Declaration on Human Rights as being in form adequate for consideration by the Assembly for adoption; and (b) advise that it has not been practicable as yet to draft a covenant in form suitable for consideration and adoption at this time by the Assembly, and, accordingly, that if the Assembly does not desire to act on the Declaration until there can also be a covenant before it, further time must be given.

2. The General Assembly would receive the above report as a matter for general debate and such action as the Assembly might decide to take.

3. The United States as a Member might consider and exchange views with other like-minded Members as to the feasibility of proposing at the Assembly a resolution along the following lines:

(a) Adopting the Declaration with whatever amendments the Assembly might deem appropriate;

(b) Inviting all Member States to enter into a covenant on such basic human rights as can be unequivocally agreed to by them all;

(c) Inviting Member States which were in substantial agreement with respect to further human rights and fundamental freedoms to enter into covenants on those rights as between themselves;

(d) Calling upon all States to refrain from efforts, and not to tolerate within their territory efforts, to deprive other peoples of rights and freedoms recognized by the Declaration and/or covenants which such States might have made between themselves in accordance with sub-paragraphs (b) or (c) above.

I suggest this program for the reason first that I think it very desirable that there should be a general debate at this next Assembly on the question of human rights so as to emphasize this important aspect of the Charter and take away concentration of attention upon political problems. Also I believe that it is illusory to expect any universal covenant which will really be both adequate and effective. There are such fundamental philosophic and religious differences between the Member States with respect to the nature of man that any covenant that could be universally adopted would be meagre or illusory and probably it would depend on a use of words which had a double meaning. Therefore, I think that the Assembly might as well grapple with the reality of the problem and recognize that just as less than universal pacts may be necessary under Article 51 to develop national security on a less than universal basis, so under Article 56, in order to develop observance of human rights and respect for human freedoms, it may be useful to supplement what can be done universally by what, at the present time, can only be done on a less than universal basis.3

This reflects preliminary views, subject to further study.



ER reviewed Dulles's memorandum before Dulles and Hendrick joined her for dinner. Later that evening Hendrick summarized their discussion in the memorandum below for the State Department.

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