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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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PARIS, Wednesday—In Committee Three (Social Committee) on Monday morning we listened to speeches for two hours and a quarter in which a number of delegates gave their reasons for supporting or not supporting the various amendments to Article Three of the Bill of Human Rights.

I think perhaps my reasons for being impatient about the amount of time that has elapsed in this session with so little apparent accomplishment is largely due to the fact that it does not seem to me completely essential to be quite so meticulous about explaining each step. This is, I suppose, a familiar phenomenon of international meetings where every delegate is sure the newspapers of his country are going to record his position and, therefore, he feels he must be sure to have it well understood for home consumption. That never worries me very much because I feel I am not important enough for my home newspapers to bother about it, and so it is easier for me to think about the need for hurry in accomplishing the work at hand.

So far on the Bill of Human Rights, which is the second item on our agenda and a long one, we have passed only two articles.

Article One states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in the spirit of brotherhood."

After weeks of discussion the only change in this article from the draft submitted by the Human Rights Commission was the elimination of the words "by nature" after the word "endowed". This was done so that everyone could feel "endowed" in the way they personally desired. Some could feel they were endowed by God, some by nature and some by Buddha. The interpretation was for all to name for themselves.

Article Two reads: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sect, language, religion, political or other opinions, property or other status, birth or national or social origin."

Many more sessions were consumed over arguments on this article, and the only change made in it was that the word "birth" was put in to satisfy our Russian colleague who wanted an exact translation of the Russian word which he said, strictly speaking, in English meant "estate". But all finally agreed that "birth" was more nearly the modern interpretation.

In the course of the debate yesterday during the morning session the delegate from Belgium quoted a Chinese proverb to point up the suggestion that, while he was making one of the amendments, if several of the delegates would work over it a little longer it might possibly prove acceptable to the majority of the committee. The proverb is: "Matters must be allowed to mature slowly, free from sharp corners."

I would not want to seem overly impatient, but if ever anything matured slowly it is the adoption of this Bill of Human Rights. We had a general debate on the whole thing and on each article and I might almost say on each amendment to each article. So, if there is value in maturing slowly, this certainly should in the end be a document "without corners."

The only trouble is that some of us would like to leave here in early December, even though our chairman, Dr. Malik, of Lebanon, told us the other day that he had the whole of eternity before him and was quite ready to spend all the time necessary with the committee.

* * *

On Sunday I had the very great pleasure of meeting for the first time Prime Minister Nehru of India.

His personality makes a great impression immediately. He is very quiet and gentle, and the burdens of his office must weigh heavily upon him. Nevertheless, he is calm and strong, and one has the feeling that the ultimate values are clear before him and the he is guided by them rather more than by an immediate expediency. The average man in public life whom one meets does not often impress one this way.

One of the things that troubles me often is that one finds people talking about the immediate situation and the next step that must be taken. You wonder whether they have taken time to think about the ultimate objective and what really is right and wrong in a situation instead of what is expedient to do at the moment.

I sometimes feel that some of our own responsible men in public office do not always "see the forest for the trees." For instance, we may be worried about who may control certain areas before we really stop to think about the rights of the people themselves in those areas or what would be most beneficial in the long run for them.

The present time, it seems to me, demands from us that we keep constantly in mind what our hopes are for the world of the future and that we do not allow the immediate difficulties anywhere to crowd out our ultimate objectives.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • United Nations. General Assembly. Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs [ index ]
         [ VIAF ]
  • Paris (France) [ index ]
Other Terms and Topics
  • Leadership--responsibilities of
  • Soviet Union--delegation to the United Nations

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 21, 1948

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | LC | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | Wikidata | SNAC ]

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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MEP edition publlished on 2008-06-30

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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.