OCTOBER 22, 1948
PARIS, Thursday—I mentioned the other day that I have been receiving a great many letters about prisoners, mainly political prisoners, who themselves or whose families felt that they were put under arrest unfairly. At first I did not understand why these letters should be addressed to me. Later, however, I found little notices in the newspapers and magazines that stated, as chairman of the Human Rights Commission, I was the one to receive such appeals.
Therefore, I think I should clear up for the general public the idea that petitions or appeals of this kind can be handled by the Human Rights Commission.
This commission is not a court. There is as yet no machinery set up to handle petitions of any kind. What we, as a commission, have been given to do is very simple. We have been asked to write a Bill of Human Rights.
We decided that this bill should be in two parts, one the declaration and one the covenant. It was decided also that the covenant, being a legal document and having to be ratified by each nation individually, should also have included in it methods for its implementation.
As yet, only the declaration is in form for presentation to the General Assembly. The acceptance of this declaration does not force any nation to change its laws at home. It merely sets certain standards for human rights, it states goals that we wish to achieve throughout the world, and it has a moral value because governments accepting it in the General Assembly will feel morally bound to strive at least to make a beginning toward these goals.
Someday there may be the necessary machinery under the covenant to receive and to act on petitions, but I do not have any idea when that machinery will be ready or what it will be. At the present time there is none, and there is nothing that I, as an individual, or the Human Rights Commission, as a group, can do to ascertain the rights or wrongs of any case. There is still open to the citizens the normal government channels in their own countries, but as yet there are no international channels for redress.
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We were discussing the other day whether one sees many well-dressed women on the streets of Paris today. I would say that, by and large, the streets of Paris present one of the best pictures of the current hardships of French life.
The majority of people can be seen wearing clothes long after they have become shabby. Practically every man wears a coat that does not match his trousers, and it is quite evident that many of the women's coats and skirts do not go together.
Bicycles are more in evidence than I can remember from years ago, and I was amused the other day to see a woman, who evidently was going to a party, carefully dressed with hat and veil and gloves, but riding a bicycle with a large package on the handlebars. This morning on the avenue that runs alongside the river I noticed a rather well-dressed woman in black standing beside her bicycle. Her stockings were of heavy white, hand-knit cotton, and I noticed also that a number of men are wearing these white hand-knit cotton stockings with knickerbockers or as socks. Stockings evidently are hard to get and expensive; some women just don't wear them, while others wear only hand-knit foot coverings inside their shoes. Such are the economies of the thrifty French people.
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Yesterday morning I made a short recording in French, which is to be inserted in a Sunday evening radio variety broadcast. The questions asked by the master of ceremonies were, on the whole, personal and dealt with subjects mainly of interest to women and children.
First of all, I was asked what the American women could learn from the French women and what the French women could learn from the American women. You will acknowledge that that is an intriguing question, and I wonder what many of you readers would have answered.
Then I was told that the French people plan to send a return train to America in recognition of what the Friendship Train sent to France by America meant to them. I was asked what I thought our children at home would like from France in the way of toys, and you can imagine how I wished I could have asked some lucky children at home that question.
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I just had word from home that many birthday cards have been received, and I want to thank, through this column, the many people who were kind enough to think of me on October 11. I know they will understand that it is impossible for me to reply individually, but I want to tell them how grateful I am for their kind thoughts.