Verbatim Report of the First Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights [Excerpt]

views updated

Verbatim Report of the First Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights [Excerpt]

27 January 1947 [Lake Success, NY]

Acting Chairman: Henri Laugier

Secretary: John Humphrey

Rapporteur: Charles Malik

(At this point in the proceeding Mrs. Roosevelt accepted the gavel from Mr. Laugier, and took the Chairman's seat)

Chairman: Mr. Laugier, I want first of all to thank you very much for coming here this morning, because I know how difficult it was. In addition, I want to say what I know every Member of the Commission who listened to your speech this morning felt, that you had given us a very high standard, one that we will find, I hope, the ability and the courage among us, to live up to.

I think now I must thank the Members of the Commission for having elected me their Chairman. I am deeply conscious of the fact that I am not a very good Chairman. I know no parliamentary procedure, and I will have to proceed as I did in the Nuclear Commission, asking advice when the questions are difficult, and doing the best I can with what common sense I have ordinarily. It is very kind of you to trust me and I will do my best.

I would like to add that I feel very keenly the importance of this Commission. I think appeals have come to me from people and from groups of people that had to do with human rights, not in as great numbers as have come, perhaps, to the Commission, to the Secretary-General, but they have come to me in considerable numbers.7 I am conscious of that fact that human rights mean something to the people of the world, which is hope for a better opportunity for people in general to enjoy justice and freedom and opportunity.

We in this Commission know that many things will come up. We do not know at all, really, how we can enforce the things we may want to do. That is one of the things that has troubled me from the beginning. We have a mandate to write a Bill of Human Rights, and we really have not as yet any way to enforce our suggestions or our decisions. We have much to do, to first of all accomplish the things which have been laid down for us, and to think out the problems as they arise. I have a feeling that this Commission is so constituted that it will meet the problems and the work which lies before it, and do it adequately.

I ask your cooperation, and I will try to be not only an impartial Chairman, but perhaps at times a harsh driver. For if we are to do the work which lies before us, we will have to stick to the subjects we are discussing, and we will have to do it briefly and as consistently as possible, and we will have to do a great deal of work outside, as well as around this table.

I am not only asking your cooperation, but your forgiveness, if, at times, you think I am a harsh task master. And with that, I hope that we may now proceed to our work.

PVrbmex CHM, DLC

1. For the role of the nuclear Human Rights Commission that met in 1946, see header to Document 110.

2. A French doctor and scientist, Henri Laugier (1888–1973) served as the UN's assistant secretary-general for social affairs from 1946 to 1951 ("Henry Laugier, Ex-U.N. Official for Social Affairs, Is Dead at 84," NYT, 21 January 1973, 60).

3. Ibid.; "Mrs. Roosevelt Is Elected Chairman of U.N. Human Rights Commission," NYT, 28 January 1947, 13.

4. "Verbatim Report of the First Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, 27 January 1947, 4-7, CHMP, DLC.

5. Mrs. Ghasa Meeta, usually identified as Hansa Mehta.

6. General Carlos Peña Romulo (1899–1995), a Filipino journalist, soldier, diplomat, champion of decolonization, and voice at the United Nations for the newly independent nations established after World War II, served as his nation's permanent representative at the UN from 1945 to 1954 ("Carlos Romulo of Phillippines," NYT, 15 December 1985, 1).

7. ER recognized the importance of these appeals too and the difficulty of responding to them but was convinced that they should not divert attention from the main work of the HRC. As she wrote in My Day almost two weeks later:

I'm afraid that many, many people think that the Human Rights Commission is a tribunal where all people who have complaints can hope that their complaints will be heard. Over and over again in our discussions, it has been brought out that, if we do certain things, we will be raising false hopes among people throughout the world. These people will be disappointed, because they are looking anxiously for some answer to their dilemmas, and the name of our commission misleads them.

The Human Rights Commission is not a court which can deal with individual wrongs. The commission, set up by the Economic and Social Council, is trying to formulate an international bill of rights for acceptance by the member nations of the United Nations. Once this bill is formulated and accepted, it will be a help to people throughout the world because it will be a yardstick for judging appeals made by individuals or groups who desire consideration for their wrongs.

But it must be borne in mind that it would be improper for the Human Rights Commission now even to pass upon such communications received, since many of them would require investigating to ascertain whether the facts are as represented, and the commission has no machinery for investigation. And in many cases, such investigation would be contrary to one of the provisions of the UN Charter, which assures the member nations that there will be no interference in their domestic affairs unless there is a threat to world peace.

Eventually, many of these things will probably come up for consideration. In the meantime, the main objective of the present Commission on Human Rights is to write a bill of rights to be presented to the member nations. However, the communications received from individuals and from groups may serve a useful purpose. They may form a background against which the needs of people will appear more clearly, and in view of these needs, action of various kinds will undoubtedly be recommended in the coming months. Still, it would be unfair to let people continue to feel that any immediate help in their personal problems will be forthcoming through this commission (MD, 8 February 1947).

On Braden, Messersmith, Perón, and Us Policy toward Argentina

ER continued to be concerned with the administration's growing acceptance of Juan Perón's Argentine government.1 The public feud between George Messersmith, US ambassador to Argentina, and his predecessor, assistant secretary of state for American republic affairs Spruille Braden, over Perón's compliance with the provisions of the Act of Chapultepec,2 exacerbated her concerns.

ER sided with Braden. She knew him; he and his family had been guests at Hyde Park during the war when Braden was US ambassador to Cuba and she "admired Braden's courage." Furthermore, she agreed with Braden that the Germans were "the predominating influence" in Argentine politics. She hardly knew Messersmith, a career diplomat, who, at Truman's instructions, worked to normalize US-Argentine relations.3

ER then turned to an old and trusted friend, Sumner Welles, for his interpretation. As undersecretary of state, Welles helped draft the Atlantic Charter, plans for the creation of the United Nations, and represented the United States at the 1942 gathering of all foreign ministers of North and South America in Rio de Janeiro.4

About this article

Verbatim Report of the First Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights [Excerpt]

Updated About content Print Article