Drafting History

  1. Drafting History - Introduction
  2. Overview of Process and Key Documents
  3. Accounts of Drafting Process
  4. First Session of the Human Rights Commission
  5. First Session of the Drafting Committee
  6. Second Session of the Human Rights Commission
  7. Second Session of the Drafting Committee
  8. Third Session of the Human Rights Committee
  9. Third Committee of the General Assembly
  10. Plenary Session of the Third General Assembly Session
  11. Reference

The Second session of the Human Rights Commission took place in December 1947. Though this eighteen-member Commission was larger than its eight-member drafting subsidiary, the Commission sought to broaden its input in various ways. At all of its own sessions, as well as those of the Drafting Committee, numerous non-governmental organizations were present. Consultants of, amongst others, the following organizations attended this Second Session of the Commission: American Federation of Labor, International Union of Catholic Women's Leagues, Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, International Committee of the Red Cross and World Federation of United Nations Associations. Some of these organizations submitted their own drafts to the Commission.

The opinions of the groups that did not have consultative status were forwarded to the Commission by the Secretariat in the form of précis. Thus the Palestine Section of the War Resisters International asked that “a special provision be included relating to conscientious objectors.”(8) The Comite Permanente Espiritualistas from Argentina requested “that capital punishment be made unlawful in those countries where it still exists, as any form of violent death is un-Christian.”(9) Even the requests of individual citizens were recorded and passed on. A resident of Hartford, Connecticut, urged the Commission not to forget the plight of persons “living without a national status.”(10) All indications are that most of this more or less informal, non-governmental input was appreciated and often used.

This Second Session of the Commission, which met in Geneva, produced what came to be called “the Geneva draft.” For drafting purposes this session split itself into three working groups to deal respectively with the problem of the Declaration, the Convention or Conventions, and implementation. This proposal, that was adopted by 9 votes to 5, with 1 abstention over the objections from the US delegation, came from the Belgian delegation as a solution for the impasse created by the disagreement on whether to draft a Declaration or a Covenant. Precious drafting time was lost because of that disagreement. This proposal probably was the reason that an actual document was finished by the time the Third General Assembly met. In the working group on the Declaration were represented the delegates of the US, France, the BSSR, Panama, the Philippines, and the USSR. In this working group the relations between the Cold War antagonists were the best they were to be, which meant that much useful work got done.

Since only eighteen nations were represented on the Commission of Human Rights and only eight on its drafting subsidiary, a way had to be found for the other thirty-eight members of the United Nations to help shape the bill.

A first opportunity arose when Humphrey or his staff corellated each article of the Humphrey draft with provisions in the constitutions of the member states. In addition, at any time during the proceedings, a country was free to submit its own draft or bill. The following countries did so, and in more than one case found their suggestions hotly debated and incorporated in the final bill: China, the United Kingdom, France, Chile, Ecuador, Cuba, Panama, India and the United States. The other thirty-eight countries also had a chance to make their will known when they were asked to comment on the Geneva draft that had been drafted at the Second Session of the Commission. The following fourteen governments responded: Egypt, Norway, South Africa, Pakistan, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, India, Sweden, Brazil, France, and Mexico (E/CN.4/82). The Commission did consider these responses. For example, the first sentence of Article 12 is based on a version proposed by the Chinese delegate and was accepted over the version of the Drafting Committee.

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University