Statement by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt U.S. Representative to the General Assembly

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Statement by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt U.S. Representative to the General Assembly

9 December 1948 [Paris]

The long and meticulous study and debate of which this universal Declaration of Human Rights is the product means that it reflects the composite views of the many men and governments who have contributed to its formulation. Not every man nor every government can have what he wants in a document of this kind. There are of course particular provisions in the declaration before us with which we are not fully satisfied. I have no doubt this is true of other delegations, but taken as a whole the Delegation of the United States believes that this is a good document—even a great document—and we propose to give it our full support. The position of the United States on the various parts of the declaration is a matter of record in the Third Committee. I shall not burden the Assembly, and particularly my colleagues of the Third Committee, with a restatement of that position here.

Certain provisions of the declaration are stated in such broad terms as to be acceptable only because of the limitations in article 29 providing for limitation on the exercise of the rights for the purpose of meeting the requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare.5 An example of this is the provision that everyone has the right of equal access to the public service in his country.6 The basic principle of equality and of nondiscrimination as to public employment is sound, but it cannot be accepted without limitations. My Government, for example, would consider that this is unquestionably subject to limitation in the interest of public order and the general welfare. It would not consider that the exclusion from public employment of persons holding subversive political beliefs and not loyal to the basic principles and practices of the constitution and laws of the country would in any way infringe upon this right.

Likewise, my Government has made it clear in the course of the development of the declaration that it does not consider that the economic and social and cultural rights stated in the declaration imply an obligation on governments to assure the enjoyment of these rights by direct governmental action. This was made quite clear in the Human Rights Commission text of article 23 which served as a so-called "umbrella" article to the articles on economic and social rights. We consider that the principle has not been affected by the fact that this article no longer contains a ref-erence to the articles which follow it.7 This in no way affects our whole-hearted support for the basic principles of economic, social, and cultural rights set forth in these articles.

In giving our approval to the declaration today, it is of primary importance that we keep clearly in mind the basic character of the document. It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms, to be stamped with the approval of the General Assembly by formal vote of its members, and to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.

We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind, that is the approval by the General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recommended by the Third Committee. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.8 We hope its proclamation by the General Assembly will be an event comparable to the proclamation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man by the French people in 1789, the adoption of the Bill of Rights by the people of the United States,9 and the adoption of comparable declarations at different times in other countries.

At a time when there are so many issues on which we find it difficult to reach a common basis of agreement, it is a significant fact that 58 states have found such a large measure of agreement in the complex field of human rights. This must be taken as testimony of our common aspiration first voiced in the Charter of the United Nations to lift men everywhere to a higher standard of life and to a greater enjoyment of freedom. Man's desire for peace lies behind this declaration. The realization that the flagrant violation of human rights by Nazi and Fascist countries sowed the seeds of the last world war has supplied the impetus for the work which brings us to the moment of achievement here today.10

DSB, vol. 19 (19 December 1948), 751.

1. ER to Maude Gray, 9 December 1948, DGC, FDRL.

2. Vyshinsky, as summarized in the official record, found "serious defects" in the UDHR, including "its ultra-legal form," "the absence of provisions for the implementation of the principles laid down," the "abstract form of some articles," "the absence of provisions guaranteeing the rights of national minorities," and its failure to "mention the sovereign rights of States" (General Assembly, 180th Plenary Meeting, Summary Report, [E/777] 9 December 1948, 854, 856-57, UNORGA, MWelC).

3. Malik, 124-25.

4. Durward Sandifer probably prepared an initial draft of this speech, at least of the portions expressing the American position on the articles of the UDHR, as he had been doing for her speeches before the Third Committee. Other State Department advisors probably also contributed. ER then fleshed it out and completed it. The December 8, 1948, US delegation position paper on how the delegation should handle the UDHR, along with the resolutions on its dissemination and the continuing work of the HRC on the covenant and implementation, which the General Assembly was about to consider, states: "A short statement should be made in support, with particular reference to the Declaration." In regard to the discussions of the UDHR in the Third Committee during the fall of 1948, Sandifer later told Joseph Lash that "we drafted statements for her in that debate." A search uncovered no drafts of this speech in ER's papers or in the State Department records, nor did it reveal any vetting of the speech by the State Department in Washington (FRUS, 1948, I, 303; Joseph Lash, notes on an interview with Durward Sandifer, 5 May 1970, JPLP, FDRL).

5. Part two of Article 29 reads: "In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recog-nition 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" (Glendon 314).

6. ER refers to Article 21, paragraph 2, which reads: "Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country" (Glendon, 312).

7. The article to which ER refers became Article 22 in the final version of the UDHR and reads:

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

In the Lake Success draft of this article (Article 20 at that time), the wording was essentially the same, except that the text ended: "of the economic, social and cultural rights set out below" and thus referred specifically to the rights enumerated in the succeeding articles. In both cases, the article serves as a transition from the civil and political rights that precede it and as an introduction to the economic and social rights that follow (Glendon, 313, 297).

8. The Magna Carta, a charter to which King John put his seal in 1215 at the demand of rebellious English barons, restored "due process," limited the king's ability to raise monies for the crown, and formally recognized ancient civil liberties. A feudal, and not democratic, document, the charter protected the property and rights of the elite families who sought to secure their place in a feudal system. Its final clause, however, introduced the concept of "majority rule" and thus set the principle upon which democracy would be built. Yet this application did not occur until 1628, when Sir Edward Coke, as part of Parliament's rebellion against Charles I, "argued that even kings must comply to common law. As he proclaimed to Parliament in 1628, 'Magna Carta … will have no sovereign'" ("Magna Carta and Its American Legacy,", accessed 4 March 2006).

9. The Declaration of the Rights of Man (the Rights of Man and the Citizen), adopted by the Constituent National Assembly of France in 1789, set forth the principles of equality and individual liberty that the French Revolution championed; the American Bill of Rights (1791) is the first ten amendments to the US Constitution (OEWH).

10. After ER spoke, the speeches continued through the following day. On the evening of December 10, after the speaking concluded, the General Assembly rejected the Soviet resolution to delay consideration of the UDHR by a vote of 45 to 6 with 3 abstentions. It also voted overwhelmingly to reject four amendments proposed by the Soviet Union, which attempted to substitute new text for three articles and add an additional article, and adopted an amendment offered by the United Kingdom that deleted Article 3 and substituted the following text as paragraph 2 of Article 2:

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 (General Assembly, 180th Meeting, Summary Report, 9 December 1948 [E/777], 929-32, UNORGA, MWelC).

At midnight, the General Assembly adopted the UDHR by a vote of 48 to 0. The Soviet bloc (the USSR, Byelorussia, Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia) abstained, as did South Africa and Saudi Arabia. After the vote, Herbert Evatt, president of the General Assembly, praised ER for her leadership in the drafting of the UDHR: "It is particularly fitting that there should be present, on this occasion, the person who, with the assistance of many others, has played a leading role in this work, the person who has raised to greater heights even so great a name: Mrs. Roosevelt, the representative of the United States of America" (General Assembly, 180th Plenary Meeting, Summary Report, [E/777], 9 December 1948, 933-34, UNORGA, MWelC).

Rebutting the Ku Klux Klan

ER returned to the United States on December 16 and she and Anna began broadcasting their radio show together from New York City. While Anna focused her remarks on the criticism women faced for working outside the home, ER used the occasion of her return to rebut the remarks made recently by the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.