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

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NEW YORK, Friday—I find that we are going to have some very fundamental differences in drawing up a Covenant on Human Rights. Some nations on the Commission feel it is better to state a right, then list innumerable exceptions to that right than it is to list rights in the article and put a general limitations clause in the Covenant, which, by its very general wording, will cover the great variety of things that might occur.

There are undoubtedly advantages and disadvantages to both methods. It is true that a general limitations clause may leave a particular matter open to various interpretations. On the other hand, when you begin being specific, you soon discover that it is impossible to be sure that you have covered every exception that may possibly arise.

Dr. Charles Malik of Lebanon feels that you can be specific and yet fairly general and perhaps under four or five headings include a great variety of limitations.

The United Kingdom has long felt that this was the only way in which you could possibly draft a Covenant. Yet today when we returned to Article #5, which a drafting committee, consisting of France, Lebanon and the United Kingdom have worked on, we still found ourselves confronted with a number of thorny problems in saying that no one should be deprived of life except under certain conditions then followed numerous exceptions, ending with one which said that you could not be deprived of life except when lawfully engaged in war.

Somehow this mention of war in the Covenant of Human Rights seems to trouble a number of us. So again we referred Article 5 to a Committee, and after hearing further discussion today, I think we will put off the actual vote on it until Monday morning.

Another point of real difference between the United States and other members on the Commission, is that the United States believes the only realistic thing we can do is treat the state's relation to the individual and not to try to regulate the relationship of one individual to another or of one individual to a group of individuals. Our position is taken, of course, with the feeling that for this first Covenant, we need as great adherence as possible among the nations of the world, and that if we make the base too broad, we will find it harder to bring in a great many nations. Even our own nation would find it difficult to obtain ratification on such an inclusive plan in Congress.

It seems incredible that in Vermont today it is still possible to put people in a debtors' prison in the way that Charles Dickens, through his novels, taught us to abhor. It was the fashion in the Britain of Dickens' day to throw people who could not pay their debts into prison, but most of us had thought that day was long past and now we find it still exists in one of our own states. I must say it was rather a shock to me.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 21, 1949

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.