BECK index

United Nations and Human Rights

Roosevelt and the United Nations Alliance
United Nations Charter
Nuremberg Trials and Geneva Conventions
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This is a chapter in World Peace Efforts Since Gandhi, which is published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Truly if the genius of mankind
that has invented the weapons of death
cannot discover the means of preserving peace,
civilization as we know it lives in an evil day.
Franklin Roosevelt

Peace comes from the spirit and must be grounded in faith.
Franklin Roosevelt

Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.
Franklin Roosevelt

We the peoples of the United Nations determined
to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,
which twice in our lifetime
has brought untold sorrow to mankind,
and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,
in the dignity and worth of the human person,
in the equal rights of men and women
and of nations large and small,
and to establish conditions under which justice
and respect for the obligations arising from treaties
and other sources of international law can be maintained,
and to promote social progress
and better standards of life in larger freedom,
and for these ends to practice tolerance
and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors,
and to unite our strength
to maintain international peace and security,
and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles
and the institution of methods,
that armed force shall not be used,
save in the common interest,
and to employ international machinery for the promotion
of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.
Charter of the United Nations

Recognition of the inherent dignity
and of the equal and inalienable rights
of all members of the human family
is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Roosevelt and the United Nations Alliance

As with Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations, the primary initiator of the United Nations was an American president, Franklin Roosevelt. However, Roosevelt, the United States, and the world had learned from failures with the League. Roosevelt was not as closely identified with the United Nations as Wilson had been with the League, and he died shortly before the United Nations' founding conference and the termination of the second world war.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882 at Hyde Park, New York. At Harvard young Franklin was not particularly studious, but he excelled in extra-curricular activities. He admired the progressive policies of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was his distant cousin, and he married TR's niece Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor was his lifelong partner in political work, and after his death she was a leading promoter of the United Nations. Franklin became a lawyer and was elected state senator in 1910 as a progressive Democrat. Roosevelt supported Woodrow Wilson for President, and he was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy in 1913.

In July 1919 when the League of Nations was being debated, Roosevelt argued that the League was necessary for a successful peace settlement. He concluded hopefully, "If the League of Nations, with its future benefits to the world, is adopted, the future generations will look to us and call us blessed."1 In 1920 FDR was selected by the Democratic convention as their candidate for Vice President and running mate of James Cox. Roosevelt campaigned in favor of the League of Nations, saying that for the first time in history nations were being placed on the same basis as the relations between individuals. He asked,

Why should one outlaw nation be able to run amuck
and murder or maim a brother nation
without being called to account for it,
without being prevented from further misdeeds
in the community of nations?2

Roosevelt believed that the United States loves peace but loves honor more and so threw its nation into the war. Then he prophetically warned his country,

If you want the repetition of another war against civilization,
then let us go back to the conditions of 1914.
If you want the possibility of sending once more
our troops and navies to foreign lands,
then stay out of the League.3

In a speech on September 24, 1920 candidate Roosevelt explained how Republican party leaders decided to sabotage the League in order to prevent a Republican defeat in the Presidential election, even after President Wilson had met with Republican leaders and gotten the Monroe Doctrine incorporated into the League Covenant. FDR described how Will Hays, chairman of the Republican National Committee, secretly met with Senators Lodge, Borah, Brandegee and others and convinced them to follow

a deliberate and carefully planned campaign
to throw over the treaty of peace
and to discredit the President of the United States,
in order to secure a victory for the Republican Party.
The choice was made at that time.
Partisan advantage was placed first,
and the restoration of peace to civilization
was thrown into the discard.
As a result of that determination of more than one year ago,
the restoration of peace still hangs in the balance.
This is recognized not only here but throughout the world.4

In the closing days of the campaign Roosevelt raised the moral question of the League versus the banking interests: he pointed out how educators, religious leaders, lawyers, organizations of mothers, and soldiers who fought in France favored the League because they were aware of the issues. He warned voters,

Those who are not "up" on the League, who have not read it,
who do not comprehend it in an intelligent sense
will cast the majority of the votes in favor of
the Republican nominees for President and Vice President.
Lined up with them are
most of the financiers and moneyed interests,
also about eighty percent of the newspapers of the United States.5

The Republicans won the election.

Suddenly in August 1921 Franklin Roosevelt was struck with polio and was almost completely paralyzed. He regained the use of everything except his legs, but he remained physically crippled in the legs for the rest of his life. However, he refused to retire, as his mother suggested, and he stayed active in politics with Eleanor's help. In 1924 he proposed a new international organization to replace the League, and at the Democratic convention he nominated his fellow New Yorker, Governor Al Smith, for President. Smith urged him to run for governor in 1928, and Roosevelt was elected and re-elected in 1930.

In 1932 Roosevelt wrestled the Presidential nomination away from Smith and won a big victory over Hoover during the depth of the Depression. As President, Roosevelt took immediate action to meet the crisis with his various New Deal programs of recovery for a blighted economy. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1936, but he had difficulty with the Supreme Court and a recession in 1937. Roosevelt had brought a creative and dynamic activity to government to deal with massive economic problems based on his real concern for the poor, the unemployed, and the destitute. His programs attempted to establish economic and social security for all Americans.

His first major foreign policy speech was on Woodrow Wilson's birthday at the end of 1933. He clearly defined United States policy as being opposed to armed intervention. In an unusual statement for a politician, he admitted, "The blame for the danger to world peace lies not in the world population but in the political leaders."6 He recalled how the masses of people had enthusiastically responded to Wilson's gallant appeal and how political profit, personal prestige, and national aggrandizement had handicapped the League's inception. Roosevelt believed

that the old policies, alliances,
combinations and balances of power
have proved themselves inadequate
for the preservation of world peace.
The League of Nations, encouraging as it does
the extension of non-aggression pacts,
of reduction of armament agreements,
is a prop in the world peace structure.7

Perhaps the same is true of the United Nations today, and the same challenge that Wilson and Roosevelt faced we still face today, which is, as FDR stated, "whether people themselves could not some day prevent governments from making war."8

Although it was politically impossible for the American President to get the United States involved in the League, Roosevelt did encourage cooperation with the non-political and humanitarian work of League agencies. In his "Quarantine" speech on October 5, 1937 Roosevelt spoke out against the worsening world situation caused by violations of treaties and undeclared acts of war that killed innocent civilians. He warned that America would not be safe from the contagion of war. He asserted that peace-loving nations must attempt to uphold laws and treaties, because in international anarchy there is no escape through isolation.

Those who cherish their freedom and recognize and respect
the equal right of their neighbors to be free and live in peace,
must work together for the triumph of law and moral principles
in order that peace, justice and confidence
may prevail in the world.9

He pointed out how much of the world's economy was being spent on armaments. The President believed that America must actively engage in the search for peace, and he suggested a quarantine against the epidemic of aggressor nations. Thus the policy of the United States was no longer isolation, and shortly a League committee declared that Japan was the aggressor against China.

A year later Roosevelt pleaded with Hitler to settle the differences between Germany and Czechoslovakia by peaceful means, but Hitler marched his troops into that country. In April 1939 Roosevelt again appealed to Hitler and Mussolini to prevent the disaster of war. Speaking from strength and human friendship, he asked these dictators not to invade thirty independent nations he named; he proposed negotiations to reduce the crushing economic burdens of armaments and to open international trade. Finally one week before the war broke out, FDR sent an appeal to Hitler, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, and President Moscicki of Poland; but only the Polish leader was interested in averting war. When war was declared, President Roosevelt sent messages to Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Poland requesting that they not bomb civilians. In a fireside chat to the nation on September 3, 1939 he declared that the policy of the United States was neutrality, but he did not expect people to be neutral in their minds and consciences. He hoped that America would be able to stay out of the war.

After winning an unprecedented third term as President, at the end of 1940 Roosevelt declared that America must become "the great arsenal democracy" to aid economically the Allies against the Fascists' warfare. Then he gave his famous "four freedoms" speech on January 6, 1941. America had been founded on the first two freedoms of religion and speech. Roosevelt's response to the Depression and World War II was to call for freedom from want and freedom from fear. Not only did he believe that all Americans deserved these rights, but also everyone in the world. Roosevelt said that freedom from want "means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peace time life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world,"10 and freedom from fear "means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-anywhere in the world."11 On March 11 President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease bill that allowed military and economic aid to the countries that were fighting Germany and Japan.

In August 1941 Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the prime minister for the United Kingdom, agreed on the Atlantic Charter, which declared their nations' principles and intentions in regard to the circumstances of the war. First, they sought no territorial aggrandizement. Second, they wanted no territorial changes that would not be in "accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned."12 Third, they respected the right of all peoples to self-government. Fourth, they supported states' equal access to trade and the raw materials of the world. Fifth, they wished to promote economic cooperation, "improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security."13 Sixth, after destroying the Nazi tyranny they hoped to establish a peace that would be secure to all nations and peoples in freedom from fear and want. Seventh, this peace would include freedom of the seas. Eighth and last, they declared,

All of the nations of the world,
for realistic as well as spiritual reasons,
must come to the abandonment of the use of force.
Since no future peace can be maintained
if land, sea, or air armaments continue to be employed
by nations which threaten, or may threaten,
aggression outside of their frontiers,
they believe, pending the establishment
of a wider and permanent system of general security,
that the disarmament of such nations is essential.
They will likewise aid and encourage
all other practicable measures which will lighten
for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.14

The "they" refers to the two signers, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston S. Churchill.

With the surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941 America was drawn fully into the war. When Churchill and the Soviet ambassador Litvinov met with Roosevelt in Washington to confirm the new alliance against the Axis powers, FDR suggested the name "United Nations." On January 1, 1942 these representatives along with Soong of China signed the Declaration of the United Nations "to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands."15 The pact was later signed by the other twenty-two nations named in the declaration. More than three years later when the name of the new international organization was being discussed in San Francisco, the name "United Nations" was selected as a tribute to Roosevelt.

Roosevelt conceived the organization as world-wide in scope, although important decisions would be made by the United States, Britain, Russia, and China, who would have the responsibility of policing the world. This is what he told the British foreign minister Anthony Eden and Churchill in March 1943. On November 1, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Eden, Soviet foreign minister Molotov, and the Chinese ambassador to Moscow signed the Moscow Declaration in which the four powers agreed to maintain international peace after the war, stating,

That they recognize the necessity of establishing
at the earliest practicable date
a general international organization,
based on the principle of the sovereign equality
of all peace loving states,
and open to membership by all such states, large and small,
for the maintenance of international peace and security.16

This statement was incorporated into the Connally Resolution and was passed by the United States Senate on November 6, 1943. Already Congress was on record in favor of a world organization. On November 9, representatives of forty-four nations met at the White House and established the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).

At the end of November 1943 Roosevelt met with Churchill and Stalin at Tehran, and FDR began to share his outline of the organization for the preservation of world peace. The Assembly would include all members of the United Nations and would be world-wide in scope; they would discuss world problems and recommend solutions. The Executive Committee would be composed of the USSR, the US, the UK, and China along with representatives of two European nations, one South American, one Middle Eastern, one Far Eastern, and one British Dominion. They would deal with all non-military questions such as economy, food, health, etc., but both Stalin and Roosevelt were reluctant to give them any binding power. The third group would be the "Four Policemen" (USSR, US, UK, and China). They would have the power to use force against any threat to the peace. Both Stalin and Churchill suggested regional committees, but Roosevelt did not expect the forces of China or the US to be needed in Europe. Apparently the possibility of one of the Four Policemen being an aggressor was not discussed. The conference concluded amicably with Roosevelt saying how nations with different customs and philosophies could blend in harmony like the colors of a rainbow for the common good.

In his annual message to Congress in January 1944 Roosevelt proposed an "economic Bill of Rights." He said that security means not only safety from attacks by aggressors but also "economic security, social security, moral security-in a family of nations."17 He felt that these rights should include earning enough from a job for food, clothing, and recreation, buying and selling products, a decent home, medical care, and education.

In August 1944 representatives of the Big Four met at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington. The Russians insisted that the Chinese be excluded until the major decisions were made by the other three powers. The tentative American plan had two broad purposes for the international organization: 1) to preserve peace and security, and 2) to promote international cooperation on economic and social problems. The plan now had five functional divisions; in addition to a General Assembly and Executive Council, there would be an International Court, a Secretariat, and subsidiary agencies. Security questions were to be solely vested in the Executive Council, which now would include France as a fifth permanent member and six rotating members. Any one of the five permanent members would be able to block an action in regard to disputes, settlements, sanctions, and uses of force.

There was still a question whether one of the five powers could use this veto if that nation was itself involved in the dispute. The Americans went along with the British in proposing that a veto not be allowed by a power who was a party to a dispute. The Soviet representative Gromyko responded to this by requesting that all sixteen Soviet republics be included as charter members of the United Nations. Roosevelt felt that this would make it very difficult for him to get the international organization accepted by the United States Senate. With the abeyance of these two questions, the American tentative proposals were generally accepted. A compromise on the veto issue was suggested on September 13 and was later adopted in the United Nations Charter. A permanent member could veto any use of force even if it was a party to a dispute; but it could not veto a decision which came under "Pacific Settlement of Disputes" if it was a party to that dispute.

Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term as President, and in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1945 he spoke of the lessons the United States had gained from the war.

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace;
that our own well-being is dependent on
the well-being of other nations-far away.
We have learned that we must live as men,
not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.
We have learned to be citizens of the world,
members of the human community.
We have learned the simple truth.
Emerson said that "the only way to have a friend is to be one."
We can gain no lasting peace if we approach it
with suspicion and mistrust-and with fear.
We can gain it only if we proceed with the understanding
and confidence and courage which flow from conviction.18

Roosevelt met again with Churchill and Stalin at Yalta in February 1945. Stalin agreed to the veto solution but insisted on at least two extra votes for the Ukraine and Byelorussia in the General Assembly. Since it would not affect the Executive Council and as a gesture of goodwill toward the Russians, who had lost twenty million killed fighting the Nazis, Roosevelt accepted this proposal, if the UN conference they scheduled to begin in San Francisco on April 25 would also accept the two additional Russian republics after discussion and a free vote. Roosevelt considered the Crimean Conference more successful than the peace efforts made a quarter of a century earlier. He believed that a universal organization of all peace-loving nations should mark the end of methods such as unilateral action, exclusive alliances, spheres of influence, and balances of power which had failed for centuries.

On March 1 President Roosevelt reported to the Congress about the Crimean Conference, saying how the Senate was being advised of the new international security organization and declaring, "World peace is not a party question."19 World peace cannot depend upon the work of one man, one party, or one nation, or even the large nations or the small nations. "It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world."20 In a press conference on April 5 Roosevelt expressed the view that for the Soviet Union to have three votes in the General Assembly was not that significant because it was only an investigative body that really would not decide important issues.

Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. On that day he wrote a speech to be given in honor of Thomas Jefferson's birthday the next day. He looked past the conquest of the malignant Nazi state toward the conquest of the root causes-doubts, fears, ignorance, and greed. He asked us to face the fact that

if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science
of human relationships-the ability of all peoples, of all kinds,
to live together and work together in the same world, at peace....
The work, my friends, is peace, more than an end of this war-
an end to the beginning of all wars, yes, an end, forever,
to this impractical, unrealistic settlement of the differences
between governments by the mass killing of peoples.21

In his last words he appealed to people to dedicate themselves to peace and act with faith. "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."22

United Nations Charter

Delegates of fifty nations met in San Francisco on April 25 for the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Using the Dumbarton Oaks proposals as a basis, they worked in committees and plenary sessions to draw up the 111-article Charter, which was adopted unanimously on June 25, 1945. The Charter became effective the following October 24 after China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and a majority of the signing nations had ratified the document.

The first article of the United Nations Charter reads as follows:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:
1. To maintain international peace and security,
and to that end: to take effective collective measures
for the prevention and removal of threats to peace,
and for the suppression of acts of aggression
or other breaches of the peace,
and to bring about by peaceful means,
and in conformity with the principles
of justice and international law,
adjustment or settlement of international disputes
or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace:
2. To develop friendly relations among nations
based on respect for the principle of
equal rights and self-determination of peoples,
and to take other appropriate measures
to strengthen universal peace;
3. To achieve international cooperation
in solving international problems of an economic,
social, cultural, or humanitarian character,
and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights
and for fundamental freedoms for all
without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
4. To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations
in the attainment of these common ends.23

In the second article the Members agree to act in accordance with the following principles:

1) the sovereign equality of all Members,

2) fulfillment of Charter obligations,

3) settlement of "international disputes by peaceful means and in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered,"

4) refraining "from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."

5) assistance of the United Nations and refraining from assisting "any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action."

6) ensuring that states that are not Members act in accordance with the Principles, and

7) the United Nations is not authorized "to intervene within the domestic jurisdiction of any state."24

The second chapter describes Membership. The third chapter lists the Organs as a General Assembly, a Security Council, an Economic and Social Council, a Trusteeship Council, an International Court of Justice, and a Secretariat. The fourth chapter describes the General Assembly in which each member shall have one vote. The fifth chapter defines the Security Council, naming China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States as permanent members. Article 26 begins, "In order to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources," and it sets up a committee to work to establish "a system for the regulation of armaments."25

Chapter VI entitled "Pacific Settlement of Disputes" begins with Article 33:

The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely
to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security,
shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry,
mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement,
resort to regional agencies or arrangements,
or other peaceful means of their own choice.26

The Security Council may request parties to use such means, may investigate disputes, and may make recommendations. Chapter VII discusses actions which may be taken to maintain or restore international peace when there are threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression. The Security Council may decide to use force or economic sanctions and call upon member nations to make available armed forces, assistance, and facilities. Chapter VIII states that regional arrangements for maintaining peace are not precluded by the Charter.

When Harry Truman became President and the atomic bomb was developed, the relations of the United States toward the Soviet Union and the United Nations began to change into the Cold War. Lend-Lease aid to Russia was ended on May 12, 1945, while Britain was granted a low-interest loan. Soviet fears of an international bloc against them were also fed by America's support for regional blocs' use of collective self-defense, which reversed the US position at Dumbarton Oaks. Truman also decided to use the atomic bomb as a bargaining factor in dealing with the Russians, and he attempted to negate Roosevelt's abandonment of control over Eastern Europe. In October 1945 Truman saw the UN as the only alternative to "a bitter armament race with the Russians."

Nuremberg Trials and Geneva Conventions

After the first world war the Allied powers had accused 896 persons of war crimes; but only twelve were tried before the German Supreme Court at Leipzig in 1921; six were convicted, and the longest sentence was four years in prison.

On August 8, 1945 the governments of the United States, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union announced their agreement to prosecute and punish the major war criminals of the European Axis. In the Charter of the International Military Tribunal they defined crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and they noted that the defendants' official positions or the fact that they were following orders of their governments did not free them of responsibility. President Harry S. Truman designated US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who became the chief prosecutor for the United States. He suggested Nuremberg as the best site for the Military Tribunal, which began there on October 18. Jackson observed that no trial in history ever had such a comprehensive scope. German organizations such as the Nazi party, the SS, the SA, the SD, the General Staff and OKW, and the Gestapo were also tried.

Some argued that the crimes charged in the Nuremberg Principles were ex post facto and therefore invalid; but they were also accused of violating the Hague Conventions, Versailles Treaty, Locarno Treaty, Kellogg-Briand Pact, and other recognized principles of international law. Defense attorneys argued that if these men were guilty, then many of the Allies were also. The first trial lasted nearly a year. The final judgment found a "common plan or conspiracy and aggressive war" based on meetings that took place as early as November 5, 1937, aggression against Poland, aggressive war against the Soviet Union, war against the United States, murder and ill-treatment of prisoners of war and civilian population, slave-labor policy, persecution of the Jews, and other crimes. Of the 22 men first indicted, Schacht, von Papen, and Fritzsche were acquitted; Goering, von Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Sauckel, Jodl, and Seyss-Inquart were hanged; Bormann was probably killed trying to escape; Hess, Funk, and Raeder were put in prison for life; and Doenitz was sentenced to ten years, von Neurath to fifteen years, and von Schirach and Speer to twenty years.

The international Military Tribunal for the Far East began in Tokyo on June 4, 1946, but the judgment was not given until November 4, 1948. Of the 28 Japanese indicted Class A war criminals, two died during the trial; seven were hanged; one was sent to a psychiatric ward and was released in 1948; one was sentenced to twenty years; and the rest were sentenced to life imprisonment, though fourteen had been paroled by 1956. By November 1948 military courts had charged 7,109 defendants with war crimes that had resulted in 3,686 convictions and 924 acquittals; 1,019 were given death sentences, and 33 committed suicide; and 2,667 were sentenced to prison. By 1958 the Western Allies had convicted 5,025 Germans, sentenced 806 to death, and executed 486. The Soviet Union had convicted about ten thousand. More trials were held for many years.

On December 11, 1946 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed Resolution 95 affirming the principles of international law recognized by the charter and judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal. These Principles of International Law were formulated and published by the International Law Commission on July 29, 1950:

Principle I. Any person who commits an act
which constitutes a crime under international law
is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.

Principle II. The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty
for an act which constitutes a crime under international law
does not relieve the person who committed the act
from responsibility under international law.

Principle III. The fact that a person committed an act
which constitutes a crime under international law
acted as Head of State or responsible Government official
does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV. The fact that a person acted
pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior
does not relieve him from responsibility under international law,
provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V. Any person charged with a crime
under international law has the right to a fair trial
on the facts and law.

Principle VI. The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable
as crimes under international law:

a. Crimes against peace:

i. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging
of a war of aggression or a war in violation
of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

ii. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy
for the accomplishment of any of the acts
mentioned under (i).

b. War crimes:
Violations of the laws or customs of war which include,
but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment
or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose
of civilian population of or in occupied territory,
murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war
or persons on the seas, killing of hostages,
plunder of public or private property,
wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages,
or devastation not justified by military necessity.

c. Crimes against humanity:
Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation
and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population,
or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds,
when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on
in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace
or any war crime.

Principle VII. Complicity in the commission of a crime
against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity
as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.27

On December 9, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 260 adopting the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and invited the International Law Commission to study the issue of International Criminal Jurisdiction. Genocide was defined as an act intended to destroy all or part of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group and may include killing or harming members of the group or attempting to prevent or remove children of the group. The Convention was ratified by enough nations to become effective in 1951.

Four Geneva Conventions, also called the Red Cross Conventions, were signed by representatives of 58 nations on August 12, 1949 to update and protect the rights of the wounded and sick, prisoners of war, and civilians in time of war. The fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War was ratified by the United States and went into force February 2, 1956; it includes the following:

Article 27. Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances,
to respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights,
their religious convictions and practices,
and their manners and customs.
They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected
specifically against all acts of violence or threats thereof
and against insults and public curiosity.
Women shall be especially protected against any attack
on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution,
or any form of indecent assault.
Without prejudice to the provisions relating to their state
of health, age and sex, all protected persons shall be treated
with the same consideration by the Party to the conflict
in whose power they are, without any adverse distinction
based, in particular, on race, religion or political opinion.

Article 30. The High Contracting Parties specifically agree
that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure
of such character as to cause physical suffering
or extermination of protected persons in their lands.
This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture,
corporal punishment, mutilation
and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated
by the medical treatment of a protected person,
but also to any other measures of brutality
whether applied by civilian or military agents.

Article 31. No protected person may be punished for an offense
he or she has not personally committed.
Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation
or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property
are prohibited.

Article 32. The taking of hostages is prohibited.28

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In February 1946 the United Nations General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council established a Commission on Human Rights to work on an international bill of human rights. In January 1947 the Commission representing eighteen nations met for the first time and chose Eleanor Roosevelt chairman by acclamation. The other officers were Dr. Peng-Chun Chang, who spoke up for Confucian values, and Dr. Charles H. Malik from Lebanon, who emphasized Christian humanism and Thomas Aquinas. They decided on a three-step process. First, they worked on a Declaration that could be passed by the General Assembly; but Mrs. Roosevelt explained in her autobiography On My Own that since the United Nations was not a world parliament, two more steps were needed. A Covenant could take the form of a binding treaty that could be ratified by nations, and the third step then would be to implement and enforce the rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948. In its resolution the UN called upon all countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions." Eleanor Roosevelt reported why eight members abstained from the unanimous vote. The Soviets and their satellites asserted that the Declaration emphasized mainly the 18th-century political rights more than the new economic and social rights of the 20th century; South Africa felt the opposite-that the rights granted were too modern; and Saudi Arabia objected to an individual's right to change his religion or belief because this was forbidden to Muslims in the Qur'an.

Because the political and civil rights were already a part of many nations' constitutions and laws, the Human Rights Commission decided to draft a separate Covenant for these and another for the more modern economic and social rights that would need to be adopted by most nations. The Soviets opposed this because they feared that the latter would be delayed for many years; but they were outvoted. The Commission submitted both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to the General Assembly in 1954; but they were not passed by the General Assembly until 1966. Both Covenants had been ratified by 35 states and entered into force by 1976. By 1995 both Covenants had been ratified by 132 nations including the United States but not China. The legal language of the Covenants makes them much longer than the Declaration, which is included here in its entirety because of its importance in elucidating an ideal modern standard of freedoms, rights, and responsibilities for all people and nations.

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity
and of the equal and inalienable rights
of all members of the human family
is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted
in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind,
and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy
freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want
has been proclaimed
as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential,
if man is not to be compelled to have recourse,
as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression,
that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development
of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter
reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights,
in the dignity and worth of the human person
and in the equal rights of men and women
and have determined to promote social progress
and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve,
in co-operation with the United Nations,
the promotion of universal respect for and observance of
human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms
is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore,

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

proclaims

THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

as a common standard of achievement
for all peoples and all nations,
to the end that every individual and every organ of society,
keeping this Declaration constantly in mind,
shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect
for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures,
national and international, to secure
their universal and effective recognition and observance,
both among the peoples of Member States themselves
and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience
and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms
set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind,
such as race, color, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinion, national or social origin,
property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of
the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country
or territory to which a person belongs,
whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing
or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude;
slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture
or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere
as a person before the law.

Article 7.
All are equal before the law and are entitled
without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
All are entitled to equal protection
against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration
and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy
by the competent national tribunals
for acts violating the fundamental rights
granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing
by an independent and impartial tribunal,
in the determination of his rights and obligations
and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offense
has the right to be presumed innocent
until proved guilty according to law in a public trial
at which he has had all the guarantees necessary to his defense.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offense
on account of any act or omission
which did not constitute a penal offense,
under national or international law,
at the time when it was committed.
Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one
that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed.

Article 12.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference
with his privacy, family, home or correspondence,
nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation.
Everyone has the right to the protection of the law
against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement
and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country,
including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy
in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions
genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts
contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality
nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.
(1) Men and women of full age,
without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion,
have the right to marry and to found a family.
They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage,
during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free
and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society
and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone
as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief,
and freedom, either alone or in community with others
and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief
in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference
and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly
and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government
of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access
to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis
of the authority of government;
this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections
which shall be held by secret vote
or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security
and is entitled to realization,
through national effort and international co-operation
and in accordance with the organization
and resources of each State,
of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable
for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.
(1) Everyone has the right to work,
to free choice of employment,
to just and favorable conditions of work
and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination,
has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right
to just and favorable remuneration
ensuring for himself and his family
an existence worthy of human dignity,
and supplemented, if necessary,
by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions
for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure,
including reasonable limitation of working hours
and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living
adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing, housing and medical care
and necessary social services,
and the right to security in the event of unemployment,
sickness, disability, widowhood, old age
or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care
and assistance.
All children, whether born in or out of wedlock,
shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.
(1) Everyone has the right to education.
Education shall be free,
at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.
Elementary education shall be compulsory.
Technical and professional education
shall be made generally available,
and higher education shall be equally accessible to all
on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development
of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship
among all nations, racial or religious groups,
and shall further the activities of the United Nations
for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education
that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate
in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts
and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral
and material interests resulting from any scientific,
literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order
in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration
can be fully realized.

Article 29.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone
the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms,
everyone shall be subject only to such limitations
as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing
due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others
and of meeting the just requirements of morality,
public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised
contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted
as implying for any State, group or person
any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act
aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms
set forth herein.29

Notes

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Own Story, p. 51.
2. Ibid., p. 57.
3. Ibid., p. 57.
4. Ibid., p. 61.
5. Ibid., p. 66.
6. Ibid., p. 198.
7. Ibid., p. 198.
8. Ibid., p. 199.
9. Nothing to Fear: The Selected Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1932-1945, p. 112.
10. Ibid., p. 266.
11. Ibid., p. 266.
12. Ibid., p. 285.
13. Ibid., p. 285.
14. Ibid., p. 286.
15. A History of the United Nations Charter by Ruth B. Russell, p. 976.
16. Ibid., p. 977.
17. Nothing to Fear: The Selected Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1932-1945, p. 389.
18. Ibid., p. 439.
19. Ibid., p. 447.
20. Ibid., p. 448.
21. Ibid., p. 455-456.
22. Ibid., p. p. 456.
23. A History of the United Nations Charter by Ruth B. Russell, p. 1036,
24. Ibid., p. 1036.
25. Ibid., p. 1040
26. Ibid., p. 1041.
27. Report of the International Law Commission, General Assembly Official Records: fifth session supplement No. 12 (A/1316) in An International Criminal Court by Benjamin B. Ferencz, Volume 2, p. 236-239.
28. The Law of War: A Documentary History ed. Leon Friedman, Volume 1, p. 650-652.
29. The United Nations and Human Rights, p. 193-197.

Copyright © 2003-2005 by Sanderson Beck

This is a chapter in World Peace Efforts Since Gandhi, which is published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Gandhi's Nonviolent Revolution
Wilson and the League of Nations
United Nations and Human Rights
United Nations Peacekeeping
Einstein and Schweitzer on Peace in the Atomic Age
Pacifism of Bertrand Russell and A. J. Muste
Clark-Sohn Plan for World Law and Disarmament
King and the Civil Rights Movement
Lessons of the Vietnam War
Women for Peace
Anti-Nuclear Protests
Resisting Wars in Central America
Gorbachev and Ending the Cold War
Mandela and Freeing South Africa
Chomsky and Zinn on US Imperialism
Protesting the Bush-Iraq Wars
Nonviolent Revolution for Global Justice
Appendix: My Efforts for World Peace

HISTORY OF PEACE Contents

Bibliography
Chronology of Peacemaking

BECK index