The Secretary of State to the United States Representative on the Commission on Human Rights (Lord)
My Dear Mr. Lord: As you leave for Geneva to represent the United States at the High Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the best wishes of our Government and of the American people go with you. The President and I are anxious that you carry a personal message to the Commission.[Page 1565]
We believe that the American people are determined to do all within their power to make the United Nations an increasingly vigorous instrument of international order and justice. It is our earnest wish that the United Nations become an ever more effective agency for promoting, in the words of the Charter, “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
The United States stands for full and complete enjoyment of these fundamental rights. The whole American philosophy of government is based on the conviction that man was endowed with these rights by his creator and that they are inalienable. This conviction is expressed at many points in the legal structure of our national and state governments and is most clearly set forth in the Declaration of Independence and in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States.
Our history demonstrates that nationwide observance of fundamental human rights did not spring into being upon the enactment of statutes. In the years that have intervened between the ratification of the Bill of Rights and the present, we in the United States have made important advances. Through education and publicity, we have developed a human rights conscience which is perhaps the strongest factor in the progress we have made. In its most recent report to the United Nations for publication in the agency’s Yearbook on Human Rights, the Government of this country has submitted detailed evidence of the progress recorded in a single year. We intend that these advances shall continue.
Moreover, our Government has noted with satisfaction the improvements in the observance of human rights which have taken place in other countries; but it has noted as well that much remains to be done. We recognize that injustices occur to a greater or lesser degree in all countries, including our own. They cannot be overcome in a day. We must work to eliminate them.
In the light of our national, and recently, international experience in the matter of human rights, the opening of a new session of the Commission on Human Rights appears an appropriate occasion for a fresh appraisal of the methods through which we may realize the human rights goals of the United Nations. These goals have a high place in the Charter as drafted at San Francisco and were articulated in greater detail in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at Paris in 1948.
Since the establishment of these goals, much time and effort has been expended on the drafting of treaties, that is, Covenants on Human Rights in which it was sought to frame, in mutually acceptable legal form, the obligations to be assumed by national states in regard to human rights. We have found that such drafts of Covenants as [Page 1566] had a reasonable chance of acceptance in some respects established standards lower than those now observed in a number of countries.
While the adoption of the Covenants would not compromise higher standards already in force, it seems wiser to press ahead in the United Nations for the achievement of the standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through ways other than the proposed Covenants on Human Rights. This is particularly important in view of the likelihood that the Covenants will not be as widely accepted by United Nations members as initially anticipated. Nor can we overlook the fact that the areas where human rights are being persistently and flagrantly violated are those where the Covenants would most likely be ignored.
In those circumstances, there is a grave question whether the completion, signing and ratification of the Covenants at this time is the most desirable method of contributing to human betterment particularly in areas of greatest need. Furthermore, experience to date strongly suggests that even if it be assumed that this is a proper area for treaty action, a wider general acceptance of human rights goals must be attained before it seems useful to codify standards of human rights as binding international legal obligations in the Covenants.
With all these considerations in mind, the United States Government asks you to present to the Commission on Human Rights at its forthcoming session a statement of American goals and policies in this field; to point out the need for reexamining the approach of the Human Rights Covenants as the method for furthering at this time the objectives of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and to put forward other suggestions of method, based on American experience, for developing throughout the world a human rights conscience which will bring nearer the goals stated in the Charter. In making such suggestions, I am sure you will want to give special weight to the value of bringing the facts to the light of day, to the value of common discussion of problems in the international forum of the Commission on Human Rights, and to the values of each country drawing on the experience of other countries for inspiration and practical guidance in solving its own problems.
We recognize that in presenting to the Commission a change in approach, extended discussion will be required in the Commission and later in the Economic and Social Council and General Assembly as well. By reason of the considerations referred to above, the United States Government has reached the conclusion that we should not at this time become a party to any multilateral treaty such as those contemplated in the draft Covenants on Human Rights, and that we should now work toward the objectives of the Declaration by other means. While the Commission continues, under the General Assembly’s instructions, with the drafting of the Covenants, you are, of course, [Page 1567] expected to participate. This would be incumbent on the United States as a loyal Member of the United Nations.
Through the agency of the United Nations and its powerful moral influence, much has been and can be accomplished. Example and education can exert powerful influence. The United Nations can also play an important part, through health, welfare, and other technical assistance programs in raising standards of living throughout the world and bringing a full life to millions of persons who struggle merely to exist. The removal of restraints on the rights of expression and association can release the creative energies of the human spirit.
Firm in our belief that the United Nations is the most hopeful and effective means of bringing about world peace and of promoting the welfare of nations throughout the world, the United States Government will support your every effort to these ends.