DECEMBER 22, 1948
HYDE PARK, Tuesday—There have been a number of questions showered upon me since I got back from Paris. In fact, while I was away one of the newspapers publishing my column wrote that it seemed rather dull to be told day by day just how each article of the universal Declaration of Human Rights was being written and didn't I meet some interesting people or do something more entertaining that I could write about.
As a matter of fact, I purposely described the writing of that Declaration in that way so that people at home might have some idea of the difficulties surrounding the writing of any document which has to mean the same thing in five official languages and, if possible, not really interfere with any of the customs and habits or legal peculiarities prevalent in any of the 53 nations belonging to the United Nations. Judging by the blithe way in which certain groups in our country suggest that we might get together quickly and easily on a world government and accept a rule of law for the whole world, I think some people must have an idea that these legal arrangements are more easily arrived at than is actually the case.
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Also, I have been asked to explain why the U.S.S.R., which evidently took a considerable interest in this document, finally abstained when it came up for consideration in the General Assembly.
To give you a little picture of what went on, I should begin by saying that in the first Commission on Human Rights the Russians gave no instructions to their representative. He was on hand only as an observer, but he was a very able lawyer and, without question, observed well. He was followed by other able government representatives and each one in turn took a little more active interest. Sometimes the Soviet delegate even voted for or against certain articles.
Up to a short time ago the Russians always said when they abstained in the final vote on the whole document that it was not complete and their government could not be committed to anything that was not in final form.
At this past session of the General Assembly they had to face a final form, and so they tried to put off this decision for a year at least, on the grounds that the Declaration could be improved. When that did not seem sufficient reason to the rest of the nations for delaying the vote, the U.S.S.R. remarked that since the amendments recommended by them had not been accepted the document was too weak to satisfy a progressive democracy such as Russia is and they could not accept it.
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Another question asked is: "Why should a document that admittedly has no power to coerce people in the world have any value at all?"
The answer to that is that most of the great declarations were at first merely statements of principle. To be sure, they were national documents and the peoples of the nations concerned agreed to strive to accept those principles and make them realities.
In the present case it is a great variety of peoples that have accepted these principles and have agreed to begin the long trek toward making a reality the rights and freedoms of the individual human being.
One should never belittle the value of words, however, for they have a way of getting translated into facts, and therein lies the hope for our universal declaration.