MAY 16, 1950
NEW YORK, Monday—My television show yesterday was done by the four officers of the Human Rights Commission and two members of nongovernmental agencies. The latter and some members of the Human Rights Commission itself feel that the first Covenant to the Declaration of Human Rights does not go far enough.
When the show was over I realized by the questions several people asked me that all of us had taken too much for granted. People still do not know why the United Nations has thought it important to have a Human Rights Commission, nor what in terms of daily life this commission's work means.
The commission is really a continuation of efforts that human beings have made for centuries in the hope of doing away with some of the wrongs and injustices that have bedevilled them.
In the first Declaration of Human Rights certain standards were set up and aspirations voiced. But that document did not force any country to change its laws. It had great moral weight, but there our obligations ended. No effort, therefore, was made to give this document a way of enforcement. It was to inspire people to try to achieve certain standards of day-by-day behavior, but only our consciences would push us to live up to it. We are now gradually translating into a first Covenant some of these rights and principles. We are also including in the Covenant the first steps by which an attempt is made to oblige states that do not live up to their undertakings to mend their ways.
If the Covenant is ratified, every state that ratifies must see that there is complete freedom of conscience and religion and that the practice and teaching of religion are not interfered with. Everyone, according to the Covenant, can move around with freedom in his own country and leave his country and return to it.
That does not mean, however, that you can start for Europe without a passport or your vaccination certificate or other papers, and return. But it does mean that if you comply with the standard regulations you may move around freely. Unlike a Russian citizen, you may, if you happen to marry a foreigner, leave your country with your husband or wife, and if you wish to come back and visit your family you may do that from time to time without fear of being detained permanently.
There also is one important clause which states that, without distinction, everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, religion, political or other opinion, property, birth or other status, shall enjoy the rights and freedoms granted in the Covenant.
Think what that would have meant in Hitler's Germany and still would mean today in a number of countries in the world. No totalitarian state would grant its people the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Covenant even though admittedly that Covenant does not go as far as many people hope that a second Covenant may take them.
The first Covenant should not be difficult for the people of the United States to accept and to demand that their Senate representatives shall ratify it. But to people in many other parts of the world it will be a far cry from anything they have ever known before. So, in spite of many arguments, I think you can work for ratification of this Covenant in the hope that it will be one of the cornerstones that will prepare the peace of the world.
(WORLD COPYRIGHT, 1950, BY UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE, INC. REPRODUCTION IN WHOLE OR IN PART PROHIBITED.)
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About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 16, 1950
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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