The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt


NEW YORK, Wednesday—Curiously enough, in United Nations meetings, the things which seem likely to create the longest discussions sometimes create less discussion than do minor procedural points! Yesterday in the Human Rights Commission, with comparatively few speeches, we covered the whole question of what should be embodied in the first draft of an international bill of human rights.

We did bring out the fact that there are two very distinct differences of opinion, and yet several members of the commission felt that they were not irreconcilable. One school of thought emphasizes the importance of the human being and, by inference at least, the subordination of government to the interests of the individual. The other school insists that there is no such thing as the interests of one person, that he must be considered in the environment of his community or group. By inference, the government therefore assumes greater importance because it affects the well-being of the group, and the individual must be subordinated to its decisions because he can only be benefited as the group is benefited.

One of the members brought out the fact that the one thing which, evidently, nobody objects to is freedom. This much, at least, may be permitted to every individual—he must make his own decisions.

One interesting point was made on a number of occasions—namely, that we must have responsibilities as well as rights in modern society.

* * *

The representative from China warned us against writing a document which would repeat all the old words and phrases and leave out fresher and more modern phraseology. He gave as an example the phrase "freedom from want." This, of course, leads to a discussion of many rights. In the various proposed bills which have been sent in to us, we have listed the right to food, to shelter, to medical care, to health, to education, and a number of other similar rights, which all really are covered by the general term "freedom from want." Perhaps it has to be spelled out in social security plans or laws to give it full implementation, but it expresses a modern conception.

The representative from the United Kingdom is very much troubled by the fact that, while you can write a bill of human rights, it will mean nothing to various parts of the world where people are still in a state which will not allow them to enjoy many of these rights. It is quite obvious that the people of Borneo do not have exactly the same conception of rights and freedoms as do the people of New York City or London.

Therefore, we will have to bear in mind that we are writing a bill of rights for the world, and that one of the most important rights is the opportunity for development. As people grasp that opportunity, they can also demand new rights if these are broadly defined.



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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, February 6, 1947

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.