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


NEW YORK, Thursday—I read with great interest this morning President Eisenhower's letter to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, meeting in Switzerland, which he sent through the United States representative, Mrs. Oswald B. Lord.

The President states that freedom is indispensable for the achievement of a stable peace, that people everywhere are seeking peace and freedom, and that we must press ahead to broaden the areas of freedom. He regrets the fact that in totalitarian governments there is no respect for freedom or for the dignity of the human person and considers this a basic cause of instability and discontent in the world today. These are wonderful sentiments and entirely true statements, but they give no indication of how those people, or we ourselves with them, are going to work together to attain the ends desired.

Secretary of State Dulles' letter to Mrs. Lord is a clearer statement. In brief, he says that no legal instrument capable of wide ratification in the world today would have any value, since it could not be as good as the actual practice in the advanced democracies and would have no advantage in the countries where the people have few, or none, of the traditional human rights, nor could it be applied in totalitarian states.

We can assume, I think, that the Secretary looks upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as being in somewhat the same category as the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln.

It was of value to declare the slaves free. By the same token it was of value to set down in the declaration of human rights—even though it had no legal binding value—certain standards for human rights and freedoms throughout the world and to accept the resolution saying we would try to attain these standards and also that we would acquaint the people throughout the world with these desirable human rights and freedoms.

No one will deny that writing these covenants was difficult. Great Britain recognized this a long while ago, and I imagine the British are relieved that the burden of having to make a decision as to what their attitude will be has now been taken over by the U.S. They can simply say now that they follow our position.

The Soviets will excoriate us unless the dove of peace is very strongly flying toward the U.S. at this time and they feel they must appease us. In the old days they would have said we had no interest in the well-being of people throughout the world. It will be interesting to see what their delegates actually say at the present meeting.

The representatives of many other nations will feel lost and perhaps a little contemptuous of our fears.

We are not willing to sign anything that binds us legally in the field of human rights and freedoms. Yet, we in the U.S. find legal decisions helpful in gaining rights for our own people.

Other nations may bind themselves if they wish, but we feel that it is impossible "to codify standards of human rights as binding legal obligations," and the Eisenhower Administration does not want to fight a section of the American Bar Association, or the isolationists or those who might vote for the Bricker amendment.

In other words, we use high-sounding phrases but we are afraid—afraid to tackle a difficult thing and try to improve it and accept it ourselves as far as we are able.

The newspapers say Mrs. Lord need not feel embarrassed, and I quite agree with them. She need not feel embarrassed, but the Administration and our statesmen should feel somewhat embarrassed.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

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

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, April 10, 1953

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.