IO Files: US(P)/A/351

United States Delegation Position Paper

Draft International Declaration of Human Rights: Item Proposed by the Economic and Social Council

1. United States Position

Three documents will be before the General Assembly for approval under this item:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
Resolution proposed by France on the dissemination of the Declaration; and
Resolution proposed by New Zealand on continuation of the work of the Human Rights Commission on the Covenant and on implementation.

The United States should vote for the approval of the Declaration and of the two resolutions.1 A short statement should be made in support, with particular reference to the Declaration.

2. History in Committee2

a. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

After four days of general debate and consideration of the procedure to be followed, Committee 3 on October 6, 1948 began the consideration of the draft Declaration of Human Rights prepared by the Human Rights Commission, article by article. It rejected a proposal that the draft be referred to a subcommittee for coordination of amendments.

On Tuesday, November 30, after completing a first reading of all the articles of the Declaration, the Committee established a subcommittee of eleven members “to examine the totality of the Declaration of Human Rights, i.e. the 29 articles and the Preamble, adopted by the Third Committee, solely from the standpoint of arrangement, consistency and uniformity and to submit proposals thereon to the Third Committee.” The Report of the Subcommittee was considered on December 4 and December 6, and the text of the Declaration finally approved by the Committee on December 6 by a vote of 29 to 0 with 7 abstentions. In addition to the Eastern European group, Canada abstained.

b. French Resolution on Dissemination

This resolution (A/C.3/381) was introduced by France on November 30 and passed with minor debate by the Committee on December 6 after completion of action on the Declaration of Human Rights.

c. New Zealand Resolution on Continuation of Work of Human Rights Commission

The New Zealand Delegation introduced this resolution (A/C.3/405) on December 6. It was adopted on the same day after completion of [Page 304] the work on the Declaration, with the deletion of paragraphs 2 and 3 of the preambular statements readings follows:

Considering that the Approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights leaves this plan of work uncompleted;

Recognizes that fulfilment of the Charter requirement that the United Nations promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms necessitates the early completion of a Covenant on Human Rights and Measures of Implementation.”

3. Possible Developments in the Plenary Meeting

There is a possibility that some amendments to the Declaration may be moved in the Plenary session. There has been no specific indication that the Soviet Delegation would introduce amendments. It did not contest vigorously the decisions taken in the final reading of the text of the Declaration in Committee. However, in view of the number of Soviet amendments rejected by the Committee, it is possible that an effort may be made to obtain favorable action in the Plenary session on some of them. So far as can be anticipated, all such amendments should be opposed by the United States Delegation.

The British Delegation has indicated that it would move for the deletion of Article 3 of the Declaration on the application of the rights set forth in the Declaration to the inhabitants of trust and non-self-governing territories. The United States Delegation should vote for the deletion of this Article, if such move is made, but should not speak on the subject.3

  1. In the report of the Third Committee on human rights the General Assembly had before it a document that consisted actually of five parts rather than three as described here: a draft declaration on human rights and four ancillary resolutions pertaining to the right of petition, the fate of minorities, publicity to be given the declaration, and subsequent steps concerning the drafting of a covenant on human rights and measures of implementation. For text of the Committee’s report with accompanying draft resolutions, see GA (III/1), Plenary, Annexes, pp.535 ff.
  2. The deliberations relating to human rights took up the bulk of the time of the Third Committee at the Paris session. For proceedings of the committee, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Third Session, Part I, Third Committee.
  3. For developments in the plenary, see GA (III/1), Plenary, pp. 852 ff. Debate began on December 9 and continued throughout December 10. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Representative on the United States Delegation to the General Assembly and delegate of the United States in the Third Committee (she was also chairman of the Third Committee), spoke early in the deliberations; for summary of her remarks, see GA (III)/1, Plenary, pp. 860–863; see also Department of State Bulletin, December 19, 1948, pp. 751–752. Mrs. Roosevelt, hailing the declaration as “a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind”, stressed the United States view as to the intrinsic importance of the document:

    “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.” (ibid., p. 751)

    After the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly by 48 votes, with 8 abstentions, the President of the General Assembly, Mr. H. V. Evatt, paid special tribute to the United States representative (Mrs. Roosevelt), who had played “a leading role” in the work of bringing into being a human rights declaration (GA (III/1), Plenary, p. 934).

    For text of Resolution 217 (III), with its component parts, see GA (III/1), Resolutions, pp. 71 ff.