JUNE 23, 1948
HYDE PARK, Tuesday—I think there might be some interest in knowing what the differences really were between the eastern European group, headed by the USSR, and the other members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. As you probably have read, the vote adopting the International Declaration of Human Rights was 12 in favor, with four abstentions. The Soviet Union attached to the Declaration a statement that it considered the report a very weak document with some very bad points and, therefore, abstained from voting in favor of it.
To go back to the early days of the Commission, I think it is true to say that there never was any cooperation from the Russian member until the Geneva meeting. At Geneva, their interest was expressed throughout the discussion, but, just as occurred in New York, they abstained from the final vote.
In New York in the session just concluded, the Slavic bloc—the Soviet Union, the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Yugoslavia—was very active and took a great interest, but again abstained because their main interest in human rights centers about social and economic problems. They also are extremely jealous of any interference with the sovereign rights of a nation within its own borders.
The rest of the states accepted the fact that human rights, if they are to be recognized all over the world, would require a recognition of world opinion. They realized that if violations occurred it might be necessary either for the people of a government to complain of their own government, or for another nation to point out the shortcomings of the violating nation.
One of the most frequent differences that came up in the writing of the articles was the desire of the Soviet Union to include the words: "In conformity with the laws of their country." Naturally, practically everything must be in conformity with the laws of our countries, but there might be occasions when the laws of a country conflicted with what had become an acknowledged individual right.
The differences in the economic systems in the various countries brought us long lectures from the eastern European group time and again. The Slavic bloc never failed to tell us of their success in housing, medical care, full employment and security of the individual generally from the economic point of view.
On one occasion, the delegate from Lebanon pointed out that we might have full employment, and be housed and fed and clothed well, but still if we were not allowed, as individuals, to think freely and to speak freely we would have lost some of the most essential freedoms cherished by man. These freedoms, however, do not loom as important in the eastern European countries.
And this is understandable, because they never loom very important when a man's stomach is empty. Man must first be fed before he can begin to think of freedom in its wider sense.
One of the things that emerged for me out of our differences was the realization that time will have to bring us to a more equal standard of living. When that is achieved, I do not think the theories will matter so much. I believe that all peoples, as they become more secure in their daily lives and find their physical needs more easily obtainable, will begin to long for the wider freedoms that they now have no time to think about as long as their physical insecurity is so great.
(WORLD COPYRIGHT, 1948, BY UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE, INC.; REPRODUCTION IN WHOLE OR IN PART PROHIBITED.)
About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, June 23, 1948
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University Old Main Building, Suite 406 1951 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20052
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