IO Files: US(P)/A/M/(Chr)/41

Minutes of the Fourth Meeting of the United States Delegation to the Third Regular Session of the General Assembly, Paris, Hotel d’Iéna, September 24, 19482 9:15 a. m.


[Here follow list of persons (41)3 present and discussion of prior items on the Delegation’s agenda.]

5. Draft International Declaration of Human Rights (Mr. Sandifer)4

Mr. Sandifer noted that the general policy of the United States on this subject had been established in the Secretary’s speech. Emphasis on human rights would play an important part in the United States approach in this Assembly in relation to the general problem of the maintenance of peace.5

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Turning to the background of the Declaration on Human Rights, Mr. Sandifer explained that it had been prepared in the Human Rights Commission under the chairmanship of Mrs. Roosevelt. This Commission had been instructed to prepare a draft International Bill of Human Rights.6 It had prepared this declaration for approval by the General Assembly as a standard of conduct involving human rights. The Commission was also working on a covenant on human rights, which would be limited to important civil and political rights. He explained that the covenant would not be considered until the April meeting of the Human Rights Commission.

The Declaration had been referred to the Economic and Social Council at its recent session. The Council, however, had not been able to consider it because of the Soviet filibuster on freedom of information, and it had been referred to the General Assembly by unanimous action of all the Council members except the Eastern European states. Ambassador Austin asked whether there was something special about the position of Belgium on this item, noting that M. Lebeau had protested against the inclusion of the item on the agenda. Mr. Sandifer and Mrs. Roosevelt knew no basis for this position. Ambassador Austin suggested that it was a matter which should be followed up to see precisely what the situation was.

Mr. Sandifer recommended that the Delegation support approval of the Declaration by the Assembly. The United States efforts should be in the direction of obtaining approval of the Declaration without amendments. If it were open to amendments there would be a long discussion and much time would be lost. Moreover, the Declaration might be emasculated and elaborated to such an extent that the United States would not find it acceptable. Mr. Sandifer noted, however, that Chairman Malik (Lebanon) had thought it would be difficult to avoid detailed discussion and the submission of numerous amendments. Mrs. Roosevelt informed the Delegation that the French had at least one amendment which they wished to submit and she assumed that the Soviets would also submit amendments. Mr. Sandifer stated that Chairman Malik was hoping to have a meeting of the Members of the Human Rights Commission, except for the Eastern European states, which meeting would discuss the methods of handling this subject in the Assembly. It would be desirable for this group to take a consolidated position in Committee III. Upon inquiry by the Secretary, Mrs. Roosevelt indicated her agreement with these tactics.

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Mr. Dulles asked whether any consideration had been given to the effect which the adoption of this Declaration would have—in particular, whether any new obligations, other than those already in the Charter, were involved. Mr. Gross replied that there were none, and that this was the view of both the Department of State and the Attorney General. Mr. Sandifer pointed out that this was a declaration of principle and was not legally binding.

Mr. Dulles read the provision of the Declaration which states “everyone has the right of access to public employment” and recalled that he had had to sign a declaration that he was not a Communist at the time of his appointment to the Delegation. Mr. Cohen said he agreed in general with the discussion but believed it important to guard against the thought that voting for the Declaration did not mean anything. While there was no legal obligation, it certainly committed us to favor and work toward the establishment of certain general principles. Mr. Dulles agreed. Mr. Sandifer pointed out that, while the Declaration did not bind us as a matter of law to apply the principles set forth automatically in the courts in the general way that a treaty would, it was nevertheless an important declaration, carrying with it the moral weight of the General Assembly. Mr. Sandifer further called attention to the limiting clause in Article 27 of the Declaration. He pointed out that this clause made the application of the Declaration subject to interpretation by each state. He assumed, accordingly, that Mr. Dulles’ question regarding the rights of all individuals to public employment would be answered in that way as regards Communists. Mr. Thorp observed that there were a number of things in the Declaration which did not represent established United States practice but did represent an atmosphere of intention, as had the American Declaration of Independence.

The Delegation thereupon approved the position paper.7

  1. Short title for the master files of the Reference and Documents Section of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Department of State.
  2. The General Assembly began its third regular session on September 21.
  3. For documentation regarding the composition and organization of the United States Delegation, see pp. 1 ff.
  4. Durward V. Sandifer, Deputy Director of the Office of United Nations Affairs in the Department of State, was one of the senior advisers to the United States Delegation.
  5. The significance of the Secretary of State’s remarks on human rights was marked by the position of the statement in his general policy address to the General Assembly on September 23. At the outset, after a reference to Paris as the site of the meeting of the General Assembly, and to the preeminence of France as a centuries-long patroness of the arts and sciences, Secretary Marshall plunged into the subject, “It is entirely fitting,” he then said, “that this General Assembly, meeting in France which fired the hearts of men with the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789, should consider in 1948 the approval of a new declaration of human rights for free men in a free world.” Quickly enumerating the fundamental “rights and freedoms”, Secretary Marshall then made his principal point:

    “Systematic and deliberate denials of basic human rights lie at the root of most of our troubles and threaten the work of the United Nations. It is not only fundamentally wrong that millions of men and women live in daily terror of secret notice, subject to seizure, imprisonment, or forced labor without just cause and without fair trial, but these wrongs have repercussions in the community of nations. Governments which systematically disregard the rights of their own people are not likely to respect the rights of other nations and other people and are likely to seek their objectives by coercion and force in the international field.”

    The Secretary of State closed this first part of his address with this exhortation to the General Assembly: “Let this third regular session of the General Assembly approve by an overwhelming majority the Declaration of Human Rights as a standard of conduct for all; and let us, as Members of the United Nations, conscious of our own shortcomings and imperfections, join our effort in good faith to live up to this high standard.” (Department of State Bulletin, October 3, 1948, p. 432)

  6. For accounts of earlier developments, see Department of State Bulletin, February 15, 1948, pp. 195 ff., and August 8, 1948, pp. 159 ff. The latter has texts of drafts of the Declaration prepared at the second and third sessions of the Commission on Human, Rights.
  7. Not printed.