Sandifer files, lot 55 D 429, “Human Rights—General—1947–1956”

Memorandum of Conversation, by an Adviser of the United States Mission at the United Nations ( Hyde )

  • Subject:
  • General Discussion on Human Rights
  • Present: Mrs. Roosevelt
  • Miss Whiteman
  • Ambassador Gross
  • Mr. Simsarian
  • Mr. Ross
  • Mr. Hyde
  • Mr. Stewart
  • Mr. Lubin
  • Mr. Murden
  • Mr. Bolte
  • Mr. Maffitt
  • Mr. Cory

Ambassador Gross opened up the question of what Mrs. Roosevelt’s estimate is on how the current meetings of the Human Rights Commission will come out in considering the two Covenants1 and also on what treatment the Economic and Social Council, as well as the General Assembly, will give them.

He asked if she would care to comment on a report of Cordier that there is some sentiment in the Human Rights Commission that favors slowing down on the drafting of the Covenants and perhaps emphasizing the Declaration. He also recalled that at the April Security Council dinner, Santa Cruz stated his feeling that it was a mistake to go ahead with the Covenants.

Mrs. Roosevelt felt that the approach in the Commission now is a political approach in that representatives are not voting on the technical question of what is in each article of the Covenants, but rather on the basis of general political attitudes. She feels that the Tunisian case is reflected in this vote.

There is a great need for the State Department to undertake a general public relations program to meet the attack on U.S. participation in the United Nations which is now concentrated on the work in the human rights field. Something needs to be done at home to make for understanding of the U.S. position. If public opinion at home develops along the lines of these recent attacks, the U.S. Representative in the Human Rights Commission will be in the same position as the Soviet Representative, that is, engaged in a propaganda activity and not [Page 1538] working on something which the Senate, when a treaty is finally agreed, would even consider on its merits. It is time to meet the attacks being made on the United Nations which take the line that it is a highly dangerous organization.

Going on to comment on Ambassador Gross’ report of two conversations, Mrs. Roosevelt felt that it is for the General Assembly to say what should be done in the future, assuming that the Covenents are completed at this session of the Human Rights Commission. She added that she is beginning to feel that there is much in Mr. Cohen’s position that in the present political climate a good deal can be accomplished with the Declaration.

At this point Ambassador Gross put forward as a tentative summary that the U.S. as a government does not want to retreat from the main line of its effort in the field of human rights. In the face of the attacks on the effort to draft Covenants, we have the duty to protect the continuity of this effort.

He wondered how this position can be protected and saved without having it become an issue in the political campaign. The question of a Human Rights Covenant and the broader question of U.S. participation in the, United Nations are issues we wish to keep out of the campaign.

Mrs. Roosevelt restated the need for the State Department to realize, meet and inform public opinion. This opinion has changed but she feels that the genuine interest of the American people continues in international affairs. In world affairs the U.S. should lead, not only in military and economic affairs but in standing for the rights of human beings. Herein lies a dynamic force which is of real value in our relations with Asia. This is the basic fact that needs to be understood. The Declaration has come out of this feeling and the Covenants may or may not come out of it. She is not inclined to want to abandon work on the Covenants, because the Soviet Union will continue to favor it and will then class the U.S. with the United Kingdom as forming a group of colonial powers opposing the Covenants for that reason. In our future handling of the Covenants we must be alive to the way in which the USSR can capitalize on what we do.

This brought Mrs. Roosevelt back to the need of organizing public opinion and telling the Non-Governmental Organizations how they can make their own views felt. On the issue of human rights, Mrs. Roosevelt stated that her mail has tripled in recent months which shows the concern of many people who need to be reassured as to the usefulness of what the U.S. is doing in this field.

Finally, she agreed with Ambassador Gross that in the economic field there is much we can do to meet the diminution of interest in the United Nations. Indeed, we must use the economic field to push the [Page 1539] United Nations. As one specific example, she mentioned the possibility of an Arab-Israel rapproachememt on the basis of pure self-interest resulting from their economic interdependence.

  1. The work on the division of the draft covenant into two instruments, one including civil and political rights and the other economic, social and cultural rights, began in the Commission on Human Rights and in the Economic and Social Council in 1951. This was a position supported and encouraged by the United States; for documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. ii, pp. 735 ff.; see also article by James Simsarian entitled “Economic, Social and Cultural Provisions in the Human Rights Covenant: revisions of the 1951 session of the Commission on Human Rights”, in Department of State Bulletin, June 25, 1951, pp. 1003 ff.