The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

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The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
Questions and Answers about Eleanor Roosevelt

Question: What role did ER play in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?


[picture: Eleanor Roosevelt at the United Nations, 1950]Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the subcommittee of the Commission on Human Rights responsible for drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for two years. At the beginning of the third year, she insisted that the subcommittee elect another chair so that the world could see that it was possible to rotate leadership and still be effective. While she did not draft specific articles of the UDHR, ER kept the subcommittee focused, refused to be baited by critics into extraneous arguments, and worked to assuage opposition. Her deft management and lobbying persuaded the chief critics of human rights, the Soviet Union and China, to abstain from voting rather than voting against the UDHR. Even more important was her realization that the declaration must be adopted quickly and not disintegrate into prolonged debate where egos and national concerns could derail the document. She urged that the subcommittee separate the legally binding covenants from the declaration, supported the subcommittee responsible for drafting the covenants on civil and political rights and economic and social rights, and convinced the State Department not to oppose this approach.