Statement on Draft Covenant on Human Rights
I am pleased that we are now undertaking to consider the substantive questions relating to the Draft Covenant on Human Rights in this Committee. It is particularly important at this time that the Assembly give adequate consideration to human rights.
Three years ago, when the General Assembly met in Paris, the chairman of the United States delegation, Secretary Marshall, said that the "systematic and deliberate denials of basic human rights lie at the root of most of our troubles and threaten the work of the United Nations...." In this Assembly, Secretary Acheson made clear that these words are even more pertinent today than they were in 1948.
It is a tragic commentary on the status of civilization in the middle of the twentieth century that the systematic and deliberate denials of human rights by some governments are so widespread in certain areas of the world that they are almost taken for granted. The kind of callous brutality which would have shocked the conscience of mankind a century ago is now unfortunately a commonplace occurrence in those areas.
All members of the United Nations have a responsibility, individually and collectively, to see that the lights of freedom are not further extinguished throughout the world.
Every member has a responsibility to see that the rights of men are safeguarded, for no country is perfect in protecting the individual rights of its citizens.
Three years ago in this same city the General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That Declaration has already become the yardstick by which all can measure the conduct of governments. The language of that Declaration has been written into the constitution of a number of states. The United Nations must now move ahead to develop new methods for advancing human liberty and for translating human rights and fundamental freedoms into action. One of these methods is the Draft International Covenant on Human Rights.
The task of drafting the Covenant, of putting human rights into treaty form, is not an easy one. We have been working in the United Nations on this draft Covenant since 1947.
I would like in particular to discuss the matter of economic, social, and cultural rights.
When the General Assembly last year called on the Commission on Human Rights to include economic, social, and cultural provisions in the Covenant on Human Rights, the United States fully cooperated in the 5-weeks' session of the Commission this spring in Geneva in drafting these provisions. The United States delegation voted last year in the General Assembly against the inclusion of economic, social, and cultural rights in the same Covenant with civil and political rights. At no time, however, did my delegation to the Commission on Human Rights question the responsibility of the Commission to prepare a draft with these provisions for the consideration of the General Assembly. The United States
delegation to the Commission felt that, as a member of a technical commission, we should cooperate in doing that which the General Assembly had asked us to do at that time.
We did vote at the end of the Commission session for a resolution introduced by the delegate of India requesting a reconsideration by the General Assembly of the question of including economic, social, and cultural rights in the same Covenant with civil and political rights. This resolution did not, however, interrupt the technical work of the Commission. This Indian resolution pointed out that economic, social, and cultural rights, though equally fundamental and therefore important, formed a separate category of rights from that of the civil and political rights in that they were not justiciable rights and their method of implementation was different.
At this session of the General Assembly we have before us a resolution of the Economic and Social Council inviting the General Assembly to reconsider its decision of last year. It is entirely appropriate for us in the General Assembly this year to reconsider this matter. In view of the importance of the Covenant on Human Rights, we must be willing to study and restudy the basic problems involved in the drafting of this document. There may be differences of opinion in this Committee on the question of whether there should be one covenant or two covenants, but at no time should anyone argue that this Committee should avoid a further consideration of this very important question.
Principal Provisions of the ECOSOC Resolution
The resolution of the Economic and Social Council points out that there are certain differences between the provisions on civil and political rights and the provisions on economic, social, and cultural rights and that these differences warrant a consideration of two covenants rather than a single covenant. The Council resolution also refers to the difficulties which may flow from embodying in one covenant two different kinds of rights and obligations.
Let us examine these differences which have been recognized by the Commission in a number of ways in drafting the provisions of the Covenant.
In the first place, article 19 of the draft Covenant recognizes that the economic, social, and cultural provisions are objectives to be achieved "progressively." This obligation is to be distinguished from the obligation applicable to the civil and political rights in the Covenant. In the case of civil and political rights, states ratifying the Covenant will be under an obligation to take necessary steps fairly quickly to give effect to these rights. A much longer period of time is clearly contemplated under the Covenant for the achievement of the economic, social, and cultural provisions. This is obvious and is, of course, to be expected.
For example, in the field of health, it would be necessary to undertake training programs for doctors and nurses, to establish experimental stations, build hospitals, obtain hospital beds, medical supplies, etc. Similarly, in the field of education, it will take a considerable period of time to train teachers, write school texts, obtain necessary supplies, build schools, et cetera. In these fields, it will take years to reach the objectives set forth in the Covenant. As you well know, my delegation fully supports the attainment of these objectives. I am simply stressing the longer period of time it will of course take and the long-range planning that will be necessary to achieve the objectives of the economic, social, and cultural provisions of the Covenant.
It has taken years to achieve progress in the United States in these fields, as it will no doubt take years to achieve further progress in these fields in my country as well as in other countries.
For example, with respect to education in the United States, which under our federal system is essentially a matter within the jurisdiction of our states, in 1900, in one-third of the United States, there was no compulsory-school-attendance law and in only a few sections of the country was there legislation requiring compulsory school attendance until the age of 16. Fifty years later, all sections of the United States require school attendance for all boys and girls at least until the age of 16, and in some areas school attendance is required until the age of 17 or 18. Since 1910 we have increased our expenditures per student in our schools 300 percent.
In the field of health in the United States, it has taken us 30 years to reduce infant mortality by more than two-thirds. Pneumonia and tuberculosis, which were the two leading causes of death in the United States in 1900, now are in sixth and seventh places as causes of death.
I mention these instances, not to claim we have achieved our goals in these fields but simply to indicate that it takes a long time to move toward these economic, social, and cultural objectives. In contrast, in the case of civil and political rights, it is anticipated that these rights will be effectuated promptly. It is this time difference between these two types of rights that I am stressing.
A second difference between the civil and political provisions and the economic, social, and cultural provisions is the manner in which the obligation is expected to be performed. In the case of the civil and political rights, they can in general be achieved by the enactment of appropriate legislation, enforced under effective administrative machinery. On the other hand, it is recognized that economic, social, and cultural progress and development cannot be achieved simply by the enactment of legislation and its enforcement. Private as well as public action is necessary. The Commission on Human Rights repeatedly rejected the proposal by two members of the Commission to limit the achievement of economic, social, and cultural rights solely through state action. The Commission fully recognized the importance of private as well as governmental action for the achievement of these rights.
A third difference between the civil and political provisions and the economic, social, and cultural provisions relates to the difference in the implementation contemplated. Initially the Commission on Human Rights drafted provisions for the establishment of a Human Rights Committee to which complaints by one state against another state may be filed. The Commission did not then have time at its session this spring to decide whether this machinery should also be applicable to the economic, social, and cultural provisions, but there actually was general sentiment in the Commission that this complaint machinery should be limited to the civil and political provisions of the Covenant. It was felt by those with whom I discussed this matter in the Commission that this machinery is not appropriate for the economic, social, and cultural provisions of the Covenant, since these rights are to be achieved progressively and since the obligations of states with respect to these rights were not as precise as those with respect to the civil and political rights. These members of the Commission thought that it would be preferable, with respect to the economic, social, and cultural rights, to stress the importance of assisting states to achieve economic, social, and cultural progress rather than to stress the filing of complaints against states in this field.
Instead of a complaint procedure, a reporting procedure was devised by the Commission with respect to the progress made in the observance of the economic, social, and cultural provisions of the Covenant.
A fourth difference between the civil and political rights and the economic, social, and cultural rights relates to the drafting of these rights. The economic, social, and cultural provisions were necessarily drafted in broad language as contrasted to the civil and political provisions. For example, article 22 simply provides that "The States Parties to the Covenant recognize the right of everyone to social security." It was thought in the Commission that since economic, social, and cultural provisions were being stated in terms of broad objectives, general language would be adequate.
It seems to my delegation that these four basic differences between the civil and political rights and the economic, social, and cultural rights warrant the separation of the present provisions of the Covenant into two covenants, one covenant on civil and political rights and another covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights. By a separation of these rights into two separate covenants we would avoid a great deal of confusion that is naturally inherent in a combination of all these different provisions in one covenant.
Equality of Importance in the Two Groups of Rights
Of course, I realize that some members of this Committee argue for a single covenant to include all the provisions now before us. The principal argument urged by those pressing this view is that there should be no differentiations in importance between civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights. In the proposal that I wish to make to the Committee there is no question raised with respect to the importance of one group of rights as against another group of rights. I consider each group of rights of equal importance. My proposal would maintain this equality of importance.
My delegation proposes that two covenants of equal importance be completed in the United Nations simultaneously and be opened for signature and ratification at the same time. Neither one nor the other covenant would be called the first or the second covenant. Each of the two covenants would be on human rights, one setting forth the civil and political rights, and the other setting forth the economic, social, and cultural rights. We would request the Commission on Human Rights to prepare both of these covenants for the consideration of the General Assembly next year.
If members of the Committee will look at the present text of the Covenant, they will observe how naturally its parts may be divided into two covenants. The provisions on civil and political rights are in parts I, II, and IV. These parts can constitute one covenant. The economic, social, and cultural provisions are in parts III and V. These parts can constitute another covenant. Part VI contains general provisions which should accordingly be repeated in both covenants.
The basic differences between civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights warrant this division into two covenants. The option will, of course, remain open for countries wishing to ratify both covenants at once to do so. To insist on the inclusion of all the provisions in one covenant will delay the coming into force of any covenant on human rights. A separation of these provisions into two covenants would accelerate their ratification by many states.
I hope that this proposal that I have made will be supported and will facilitate reaching agreement in the Committee on the question of economic, social, and cultural rights. The situation this year is very different from the situation last year in the General Assembly. At that time we were considering the drafting of a first covenant on human rights, containing only civil and political rights. A covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights was proposed to be drafted at a later date. Now that the Commission on Human Rights has drafted provisions on economic, social, and cultural rights, we are in a position to visualize two covenants, simultaneously completed, one on civil and political rights and the other on economic, social, and cultural rights. This changed situation warrants a decision by the General Assembly calling for two covenants rather than one covenant.
I will not at this time discuss other aspects of the covenant. I may comment on these other matters later. I have devoted my attention in these remarks to the importance of drafting two covenants, one on civil and political rights, and the other on economic, social, and cultural rights, because I feel this to be the most important question facing us.
From Department of State Bulletin, December 31, 1951, pp. 1059, 1064-1066.
As edited by Allida M. Black. See her collection, What I Hope to Leave Behind: The Essential Essays of Eleanor Roosevelt. (Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1995)