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


NEW YORK, Tuesday—I think I should try to make plain—to those who are interested in the drawing up of the two Covenants of Human Rights—some of the difficulties that face us.

In our revision of the covenant on economic and social rights we came to the article yesterday that says: "The states, parties to the Covenant, recognize the right of everyone, in conformity with Article 16, to form and join local, national and international trade unions of his choice for the protection of his economic and social interests."

This had been drafted last year when this covenant was a part of one covenant that contained both civil and political, as well as social and economic, rights. Therefore, Article 16 was a proper reference. That article said: "(1) the right of association shall be recognized." It then went on to qualify this right in a way that was much more detailed than the present article.

This raises two questions:

Is this a proper article for the covenant on economic and social rights? Or should it remain in the covenant on civil and political rights?

An argument can be made for putting this right in the former, since conditions of work are spelled out in the covenant on economic and social rights. But, certainly, we cannot refer to a previous article not in this covenant and, therefore, an amendment was put in by the delegate from Lebanon, making the article read: "The states, parties to the Covenant, undertake to ensure the free exercise of the right of everyone to form and join local, national and international trade unions of his choice for the protection of his economic and social interests."

This general statement of a right is sufficient for the covenant on human rights. We should not, it seems to us, proceed to tell each individual state how it shall carry out this principle and what their individual regulations shall be.

The Soviet Union, however, proceeded in an amendment to spell out just what each state should do, including in Paragraph 5: "The right to strike should be guaranteed."

It is obvious that we, in the United States, have always believed that people have a right to strike, but that right to strike is resorted to only after collective bargaining has failed. Other nations have other provisions, but it is obvious that in a covenant of human rights we cannot incorporate any of these details and still have the covenant acceptable to the majority of nations.

Therefore the principle must be stated, but the way it is to be carried out must be left to the states themselves.

It was hard for me, however, to vote against that one line in the Soviet amendment. There is no question that we in the U.S. believe in the right to strike, but we do not believe it should be put in this particular document in an article.

A majority of the nations felt as we did. The result was that the article set forth a brief statement of principle as proposed by Lebanon and was accepted as the first paragraph of the Soviet amendment, all the rest of which was rejected.

Today we will be faced with an equally difficult problem.

Article 1 in the covenant states that all the rights are to be "exercised without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." We have contended that this should not be repeated in the other articles.

We will come to still another article today that specifically states that men and women shall have equal rights in the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights and particularly of those set forth in this covenant. We are going to have to vote against this article because we cannot insist that there must not be repetition and then vote for repetition. That would be very bad drafting and inconsistent with our stand on other articles.

Nevertheless, I shall have to make a statement saying that I realize these rights are not enjoyed equally by men and women and I hope that Article I will carry its full weight as regards equality of opportunity for both sexes.

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, 1952

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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