IO Files: US/A/M (Chr)/135

Minutes of the Briefing Session of the United States Delegation to the General Assembly, Washington, September 8, 1950, 10 a. m.


Representatives and Alternate Representatives:

  • Ambassador Austin
  • Mrs. Roosevelt
  • Senator Sparkman
  • Senator Lodge
  • Mr. Dulles
  • Mr. Cohen
  • Mr. Cooper
  • Mrs. Sampson
  • Members of the Staff

[Here follows discussion of prior agenda items.]

5. Human Rights Covenant (SD/A/C.3/137)1

Mr. Simsarian explained that the Human Rights Covenant was the second step in the human rights program coming out of the Human Rights Commission to the General Assembly. In 1949 [1948] the Assembly had adopted the Declaration of Human Rights;2 the Covenant had then been developed. He noted that Mrs. Roosevelt represented the United States on the Commission and had served as its chairman.

Mr. Simsarian drew the Delegation’s attention to the text of the Covenant. It was different from the Declaration of Human Rights in two respects: first, in the character of the document—the Declaration had been a statement of objectives, and the Covenant had been drafted in the form of a binding treaty; second, in the case of the Covenant only a limited number of rights were covered—fundamentally the same area as that included in the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The Covenant was the result of four years of work. The Department considered the Covenant to be in fairly satisfactory form, particularly since the form of its drafting fitted into our constitutional system. We were satisfied that the area which it covered was practical, [Page 517] since loose language covering economic and social rights had been excluded. Simple machinery for implementation had been provided. The Draft Covenant had been sent by the Commission to the Economic and Social Council which decided that further work should be done on it by the Commission. The United States had felt it was ready for final action, but other members favored further review, apparently because they felt particular articles should be changed; we had agreed to go along in supporting the Economic and Social Council recommendation for further work. This would give opportunity for further improvement, and we would continue our educational program respecting the Covenant.

Ambassador Austin inquired whether the federal-state element would cause a problem. Mr. Simsarian explained that the Human Rights Commission had not decided this issue, which had been held in abeyance for Assembly discussion, though considerable support for such an article was indicated in the Council discussions.

Mr. Simsarian indicated that four questions had been raised by the Economic and Social Council. No general debate was expected. The first question related to the general adequacy of the first eighteen articles; we were generally satisfied, subject to the requirement that the federal-state article be included in order to limit our obligation to areas appropriate to federal action. The second question was the formulation of the federal-state clause. The third question was whether additional articles should be included. The fourth question involved creation of international machinery for consideration of complaints regarding breaches of the Covenant; we believed the present machinery was adequate. Consultations were proceeding with other governments. We were anxious that our participation in support of the Covenant be understood in the Assembly, and we would make clear our willingness to participate in the development of other documents in the field.

Mrs. Roosevelt noted that the question of the federal-state clause, and of the colonial clause had both come up. We had proposed the federal-state clause, and the United Kingdom had proposed a colonial clause which was the weakest ever submitted. This had resulted in a long argument, and the proposals had been simply put on the record, since it was known that in both the Economic and Social Council and the Third Committee there would be detailed argument on both proposals.

Mrs. Roosevelt referred to the great disappointment of the Secretariat with the Covenant because it was so limited; some Secretariat members regarded it as so limited that it would be better to have no Covenant, and simply to go ahead with the Declaration rather than to try to put into law something which might weaken the Declaration. [Page 518] She felt sure that the Secretariat influence had opposed bringing the Covenant up for final Assembly consideration. Certain non-governmental organizations, including church groups, had opposed the Covenant as inadequate, particularly because it did not allow the right of individual petition. The Secretariat, for example, insisted that international organizations should have the right to petition. The United States had felt strongly that, having no machinery for remedial action, it would be a mistake to start out in such an inefficient way. This was one reason the Covenant was being sent back, and in addition, there were certain people who wanted no Covenant at all because they would find it inconvenient to bind themselves by law. The United States, on the other hand, had honestly wanted to translate the Declaration into law, but we would prefer to see economic and social rights treated in separate protocols, to be added to the Covenant. Mrs. Roosevelt wished the Covenant might have been sent to the Assembly including both the federal-state clause and the colonial clause. While there was no loss in putting it over for another year, we would face the same arguments again.

Mrs. Roosevelt pointed out that if the United States did not ratify the Convenant, no country would. She considered that translating the Human Rights Declaration into law should be done on a limited basis at first. Mr. Cohen believed we should not press for a Covenant if we felt it would hurt the value of the Declaration; that was the feeling of a number of people because they considered not enough had been covered in the Covenant. He would prefer to have us discuss the general principles involved in this Assembly and hoped discussion of individual articles could be avoided.

Mr. Lubin noted that the Economic and Social Council resolution had made perfectly clear that no question was being raised with respect to those articles already agreed upon but that the Assembly was being asked for the answer to certain questions: the adequacy of the first eighteen articles; the federal state and colonial clauses; the desirability of including economic and social rights; the adequacy of implementation. The Council had said it liked what had been done but desired the Assembly’s advise on these four points.

[Here follows further discussion of the draft covenant in which warning was voiced that there was no chance that the United States Senate would accept the covenant without the federal-state clause and that even with a federal-state clause there would be difficulties, in light of the Senate’s delay in taking up the Genocide Convention (see Foreign Relations, 1949, volume II, page 391, footnote 1).

With the conclusion of the discussion on human rights, the Delegation’s briefing continued with regard to another agenda item.]

  1. Supra.
  2. For text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, see General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III), December 10, 1948, United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Third Session, Part I, Resolutions, pp. 71 ff.