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


PARIS, Monday—It is very interesting to find that even in our committee, which has now been working for many weeks on the Declaration of Human Rights, there is a feeling that in one way or another this declaration should be made to carry some legal weight. Every now and again an effort is made by a delegate to inculcate this authority into the document.

The right of petition came up again last Friday. The French delegate from the beginning has felt that no declaration could be complete unless we stated that every human being had the right not only to petition to his own government but to petition to the United Nations.

In the Human Rights Commission the majority of us felt that this particular article should wait until the convention was written in full. In the convention there would have to be a provision made for the carrying out of various rights and freedoms granted to individuals. While everything in the declaration is not to be included in the convention, certain broad provisions for enforcing human rights would have to be decided on.

As most of the petitions that have come before us are about the denial of human rights somewhere in the world, this question will have to be considered. It would naturally follow that some provision would have to be made on ways to handle these petitions. But the Human Rights Commission will have to give this very careful study, and, therefore, the subcommittee on minorities and discrimination has been asked to make some recommendations on the manner of dealing with petitions. It would be wise to wait for its report.

I would not feel that it would be impossible to add another article to the declaration in the future. In fact, I rather think there will be a number of revisions. Or it might well be decided that petitions should be handled in the convention only or even that they would require a convention of their own. In any case, after a long discussion we did decide to ask that the Human Rights Committee give this question of petitions further consideration.

Soviet Russia, for once was vehemently with us on the question. That was because they consider it a violation of the rights of the sovereignty of nations to allow citizens to petition the United Nations. The United Kingdom thought that an article on petitions had no place in the declaration, and we thought that the question should be left entirely without prejudice to the Human Rights Commission, since without its careful study it would be impossible to make any real decision.

* * *

We spent last Saturday morning discussing three new articles, proposed by Russia, Yugoslavia and Denmark. All of them had to do with rights of minority groups.

Yugoslavia's proposal seemed to deal chiefly with the situation of whole national groups that are in themselves almost complete nations but that are incorporated within a larger federation or group of nations. Russia, having well over 100 national groups in its domain, spelled out in detail in its amendment the rights of these groups to schools in their own language, to the use of that language in courts, to religious services and many more details that make a federation of nations a possibility without too much friction, but which keeps them nevertheless a different people.

Denmark was concerned only about the rights of groups to have the language they preferred used in schools and the right to set up schools of their own if they wished.

So far as I was concerned the point brought most clearly before us was the fact that this was not a subject on which a general article could be written for a universal declaration. All of the Americas' delegates declared that this problem did not exist with them because people who come to our shores do so because they want to become citizens of our countries. They leave behind certain economic, religious and social conditions that they wish to shed and prefer to be assimilated into the new country that they are adopting as their own. They are accepted by us with that understanding, and from our point of view we would like to see the committee recognize the fact that the European problem should be handled differently.

Their situation, it seems to us, is better resolved by individual agreements or treaties among the groups that have federated, each of which desires to preserve its own national identity. It is true that sometimes a group enters a new federation unwillingly, perhaps by conquest, and sometimes it does so willingly, but in any case there are special arrangements that will make such situations more agreeable to all those concerned.

The Russian delegate said that this problem faced us in Puerto Rico. But that is not really the case. Puerto Rico will have a choice as to whether it wishes to become a state. The Polish delegate spoke with feeling of the things that had been done to them under the Nazi occupation in an effort to wipe out their culture, but of course that situation is not applicable in any way to the type of assimilation that goes on in the Americas on a voluntary basis.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Paris (France) [ index ]
Other Terms and Topics
  • Discrimination
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  • Nazis
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  • Soviet Union--delegation to the United Nations
  • United States. Delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations
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  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations. General Assembly)
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, November 30, 1948

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