Editorial Note

At the time that Mrs. Roosevelt took over as Acting Chairman of the United States Delegation in December 1951, she circulated a memorandum dated December 18, 1951, to members of the Delegation, “for it explains much that is happening in Committees 2, 3 and 4” (IO Files, Doc. US/Gen. 499, December 18, 1951). In the memorandum Mrs. Roosevelt had included remarks (English translation) excerpted from an address by M. Henri Laugier, former Assistant Secretary-General in charge of Social Affairs, before the World Federation of United Nations Associations, Geneva, July 31, 1951. Although these remarks were subsequently severely criticized as Communist propaganda by Deputy Assistant Secretary Sandifer, when he read the document, their content is included here as relevant to an understanding of the intellectual climate prevailing at the Paris General Assembly, 1951–1952, with regard to human rights questions, and the problems posed thereby for United States policy.

M. Laugier’s remarks follow:

  • “First of all, allow me to bring to your attention the facts to which Committee 3, the Social Committee of the Assembly, was a witness last year. I have always thought, and I am more than ever of the opinion, that a group of historians and observers, men with imagination and with an eye for criticism, should be set up at the Secretariat of the United Nations to analyze methodically the policy of the different states, and particularly their votes in the different committees of the Assembly. In the absence of such a body whose job would be to think and consider, I have modestly attempted to fulfill its functions myself, and the votes in Committee 3 have been of great value not only to me but to you, and I think to all those who attempt to foresee the future by taking into account the present events. What happened is this, and I cordially invite you to consider carefully the following facts:
  • “In many important votes on the following subjects: the colonial clause in the Covenant, freedom of information, the right of self-determination, the insertion of economic and social rights in the Covenant; we saw after many very noble speeches and a roll call vote, a majority of some 30 to 35 states (depending upon the circumstances), made up of most of the South American countries, Middle Eastern countries, Asiatic and Soviet states, join together against a minority of 12 to 16 votes (depending upon the circumstances) of the highly developed states such as Great Britain, the United States, France, Belgium, Australia, etc. The phenomenon is of great importance and deserves to be studied in great detail. A conference should be given over to it, or even a book written on it, bringing a possible solution to this question: What does it mean? What it means is that in the Social Committee of the United Nations, where governmental pressure is not as great as in the political, economic, trusteeship, or financial committees, the highly developed countries have lost the control, the leadership of the international community; and that this control and this leadership have gone over to the disinherited countries. It means and signifies the following: that there exists today in the world several [Page 869] hundred million men, women, and children who are leading a life which is not fit for a human being, in slums and with insufficient food, among sickness, ignorance and illiteracy; and who today, in this world of technical progress are not willing to resign themselves to their fate. The same problem existed fifty years or a hundred years ago. But at that time these men come into the world, lived, gave birth to children, and died on their own land like plants or animals. Today in this scientific world they know that within reach by plane, a few hours from misery, there exist countries where there is plenty of everything, nay, where squander and waste are the order of the day. And they no longer resign themselves to their sad fate; they demand, discreetly today, imperatively tomorrow, an international night of August 4;* the disinherited countries arise to ask that these states abandon their privileges, states which history and geography have made into privileged countries. These disinherited countries know that they cannot expect a significant improvement in their fate through national action alone, and with mingled hope and despair, they turn towards the United Nations, calling for help and relief. That is to say that within a short time, the world, already menaced by imperialist wars, is going to be threatened with a social revolution pitting the disinherited countries against the privileged countries; and that undoubtedly only a generous, brave, and fearless action is capable, not of forestalling this imperious demand for international social justice, but at least of guiding it into the peaceful ways of cooperation among peoples of the World. It is, in any event, particularly important that these countries which history and geography have made happy, powerful, rich and strong, be made to feel that that this power, this good fortune, this wealth, and this strength, do not give them special rights or authority in the international community, but impose upon them responsibilities and extra duties of generosity, devotion and self-sacrifice to the cause of suffering humanity.” (Translation of an excerpt from address given before the World Federation of United Nations Association, Geneva, July 31, 1951)

  1. August 4, 1789, when all feudal rights and privileges of the [French] nobility were relinquished to the Constituent Assembly. [Footnote in the source text.]