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`A VERY SPECIAL MOMENT IN HISTORY': New Zealand's role in the evolution of international human rights.

Paul Gordon Lauren suggests that New Zealand exercised an influence far out of proportion to its size in the formative years of the United Nations.

The many festivities surrounding Human Rights Day 1998 will all be designed to mark an important historical milestone: the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Much attention will be given during these celebrations to the remarkable progress made in the evolution of international human rights since the end of the Second World War. There will be lectures, programmes, seminars, concerts, and many speeches by government leaders. Given the nature of politics, it is highly likely that the great powers will give themselves all credit for this development and will say little or nothing about New Zealand's contribution. Given the historical evidence, this will be not only a mistake but also an injustice. The reason for this is that at a particular moment in history, New Zealand played a most significant role in advancing the cause of international human rights and made a contribution that the world is still experiencing today.

For centuries of time, and in many different places, thoughtful men and women held visions of human rights. They dreamed of a world in which all people might be universally treated with dignity, receive equal treatment, and enjoy justice and certain basic rights simply by virtue of being members of the same human family. Yet, for most of history, these visions remained theoretical dreams rather than reflections of practical reality. Over the centuries, almost all of those who lived and died never knew the meaning nor the enjoyment of human rights. Instead, they found themselves facing one kind of abuse or another and confronting various forms of discrimination and patterns of dominance based upon gender, race, class or caste, religion, ethnicity, or some other form of difference that divided people from one another. Gender and racial prejudice, intolerance, segregation, torture, conquest, exploitation, and human bondage in serfdom or slavery tended to be the norm rather than the exception, sometimes made all the more acute by cases of genocide. Of particular importance, victims of these practices suffered under governments which confidently knew in advance that how they treated those under their control would be regarded as a matter exclusively within their own domestic jurisdiction and not at all subject to the scrutiny of other states. The practices, institutions, and laws of international affairs remained essentially silent on the matter of rights and precluded victims from ever having recourse to any assistance beyond their own borders. Thus, for all practical purposes and throughout most of history, international human rights did not even exist.

Determined opposition

New Zealand clearly fit this pattern. The country was well known for its opposition to any diminution of national sovereignty in general and, more specifically, to any international efforts that might seek to address such issues as patterns of white settlement, indigenous peoples, or Asian immigration. When the Japanese proposed that the world recognise the principle of the human right of racial equality at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, for example, Prime Minister William Massey unabashedly jumped into the fray. Having earlier campaigned on a pledge `to keep the country clear of coloured and undesirable immigrants',(1) he argued that the international community should have absolutely nothing to say either about human rights or the norms of New Zealand behaviour. Although the proposal for racial equality received the support of the majority of representatives gathered at Paris, Massey was joined by the Australians, British, and Americans, who together killed it. He received praise from many quarters at home for his position, including an endorsement in the Otago Witness declaring:
   If there is one subject on which there is acute feeling ... it is the
   recognition of the coloured races. And though the American Declaration of
   Independence begins by asserting all men are born equal in the sight of God
   it makes no mention of niggers and Japanese.(2)

Worried about the growth of international pressure on this subject, the government passed the Immigration Restriction Act the next year with the strong support of organizations like the Anti-Asiatic Society and the White Race League. Interestingly enough, they believed that in doing so they needed to exercise considerable caution and not simply shout their action to the world. The reason for this, said the Evening Star, could be found in the consideration that `the new international diplomacy in respect to racial discrimination requires a certain amount of delicate camouflage'.(3)

Much of New Zealand's efforts in the League of Nations revealed a similar attitude and approach. The government worked to prevent T.W. Ratana from addressing the Assembly concerning matters of race and indigenous peoples, refused to exercise its right to sit on the Council, and complained frequently that the organisation threatened to exceed its authority when dealing with human rights. Indeed, New Zealand's attitude seemed to be reflected exceedingly well in the 1933 report from the High Commissioner regarding the League of Nations. He disparagingly referred to the organization's discussion of minority affairs as being of `only academic interest', and when discussing a possible treaty concerning the rights of children observed:
   The question as to the necessity of an international convention ... was
   raised, but, if I may express a personal opinion, I would say that it is
   much to be hoped that attempts, of which this is an example, to regulate
   matters which are national in character, will be brought to an end, and
   that the League will in future more and more concern itself with those
   tasks provided for in the Covenant .... [There is a] tendency of League
   organs to venture into fields which might be considered national rather
   than international.

He concluded by warning ominously, `This position needs watching....'(4) It is thus not hard to understand why other members of the League of Nations who held visions of international human rights regarded New Zealand as an adversary, and believed that nothing would ever change its mind.

They were wrong. Within a very short period of time, New Zealand quickly and dramatically transformed itself from being an opponent into a determined champion of international human rights. This resulted from two factors: the experience of the Second World War and the leadership of Peter Fraser and his colleagues Walter Nash and Carl Berendsen.

Total war

It is difficult to imagine that a total war lasting for six brutal years, spreading across the globe, causing untold damage and devastation, and resulting in the horrifying deaths of millions of people (some by genocide in the Holocaust) could create, at the same time, new and unanticipated opportunities for the promotion and protection of international human rights. But it did. Perhaps the duration and the magnitude of this war made it so. The experience of the Second World War opened up possibilities for the world to be forced to confront its history and values, to examine the dangers in the doctrine of unlimited national sovereignty, to consider new international responsibilities, to witness the emergence of minority groups and smaller nations excluded in the past now demanding to be heard, and to launch a crusade on behalf of human rights.

In an important message to the US Congress as early as January 1941, for example, President Franklin Roosevelt announced: `Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them'.(5) Eight months later, Roosevelt, together with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, elaborated on this theme in an eight-point declaration known as the Atlantic Charter. Here, they publicly declared their support for `improved labour standards, economic advancement, and social security', the right of all people to `live out their lives in freedom from fear and want', and `the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live'.(6)

Among the many who seized upon this vision of human rights for people around the world were Peter Fraser and Walter Nash. As the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Fraser participated in the War Cabinet discussions in London. In this capacity he helped contribute the language about labour standards and social security to the Atlantic Charter, viewing it as a most welcomed contribution to the war effort and to broader discussions about human rights. His close colleague and Deputy Prime Minister, Walter Nash, similarly embraced the Atlantic Charter, and even privately described it as `a modern charter of human liberties' and without hesitation boldly predicted that it constituted nothing short of `a declaration more potent for good than any other in the records of human history'.(7) The enthusiasm of Fraser and Nash increased when a total of forty-six countries eventually signed the Declaration of the United Nations, proclaiming their collective commitment `to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands'.(8)

Oft-stated goal

Throughout the course of the war, these leaders of New Zealand spoke frequently, eloquently, and with conviction about this goal of human rights. They believed that the war, although a calamity, also presented an unparalleled opportunity to extend justice, the principles of the Atlantic Charter, and the rights `of all mankind' to improved conditions as `the rightful heritage of all human beings'.(9) They emphasised this theme again and again, not only at home, but also abroad. While serving as New Zealand Minister to racially-segregated Washington, for example, Nash spoke boldly of human rights and justice, declaring before openly hostile audiences: `We must apply freedom and its principles to race and nations and individuals. Freedom for all.'(10) In his capacity as president of the International Labour Organisation he spoke about the universal applicability of the principles of the Atlantic Charter, and reiterated his belief that all men and women had the right to pursue their material well-being and spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, economic and social security, and equal opportunity. He declared that the world must recognise that `there are no superior people', that `there can be no justification for discrimination', and that `men and women of all races, of all creeds, of all nationalities, and of all classes' around the world must be treated equally and accorded their basic human rights.(11) When speaking before the Canadian Parliament, Fraser declared passionately:
   The sacrifices made by our men and women ... must not -- I speak most
   seriously and earnestly -- be in vain. We are fighting ... for the
   principles set forth in the various declarations of the united nations, and
   ... for the principles set forth in the Atlantic Charter.... The principles
   ... are not platitudes.... They are principles that must be honoured
   because thousands have died for them. Your boys, boys of New Zealand, South
   Africa, India, the United States and all the united nations, have given
   their lives that the four freedoms -- freedom of speech, freedom of
   religion, freedom from fear and want -- may be established and the masses
   of people given greater opportunities than ever before. Unless we strive to
   carry out those principles we shall be undoing in peace what has been won
   on the battlefield.(12)

Hidden agenda

It was the possibility of just such an `undoing' that seriously worried Fraser and his colleagues so much throughout the war, and the suspicions they held about the hidden agendas of the great powers were more than confirmed when they released their so-called Dumbarton Oaks Proposals. From August to October of 1944, representatives of the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington to hold private conversations concerning the terms for a new post-war international organisation that would become known as the United Nations. Between themselves they reached ready agreement over Roosevelt's basic concept of the `Four Policeman' that those nations with preponderant strength would act as guardians over the rest of the world. For this reason, they designed a powerful Security Council which they, as the great powers, would dominate through their permanent membership and power of the veto. They agreed that a considerably weaker General Assembly would be composed of the representatives of all nations and that an Economic and Social Council should be created. Then, and despite all of the solemn declarations, moving speeches, promises, and crusading rhetoric during the so-called `people's war', the movers and shakers at Dumbarton Oaks refused to include any meaningful or wide-ranging articles on human rights outside of the narrow confines of social and economic co-operation. The United States, of course, feared that human rights provisions would jeopardise the claims of national sovereignty and challenge their own racial policies at home. British officials dreaded the consequences that might endanger their control over a vast colonial empire. Moreover, the dictatorial regime of Joseph Stalin had no intention whatsoever of supporting any serious effort on behalf of human rights. As Andrei Gromyko, the dour Soviet representative, bluntly declared, any reference to individual rights and basic freedoms `is not germane to the main tasks of an international security organisation'.(13)

The leaders of New Zealand reacted vigorously and vocally to these proposals. With indignation, frustration, disappointment, anger, and a sense of betrayal, Fraser and Nash vehemently declared that the Dumbarton Oaks plans violated both the letter and the spirit of wartime promises. They had believed in the principles of the Atlantic Charter from the very beginning, viewed themselves as men of the people and champions of the underdog, and employed their considerable energy and passion to fight for human rights wherever they travelled and spoke on behalf of the war effort. They envisioned an international organisation that could keep the peace by treating nations equally, developing a system of trusteeship for colonial possessions that advanced `the well-being and development of native peoples', advancing social and economic justice on a global level as they had done through their labour policies at home, and promoting the `moral principles' of human rights.(14) Their colleague, Carl Berendsen, the Minister of New Zealand to the United States, minced few words and expressed his criticisms of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals directly:
   Too much emphasis on Great Powers and not much real machinery for joint
   action even among them. Too much vagueness. No guarantees, no pledges, no
   undertaking except in general terms.... With the emphasis on the Great
   Powers no adequate opportunity for small countries like New Zealand to
   exercise influence or express views.... Too much emphasis on Council, too
   little on Assembly.... No adequate machinery for securing peaceful change
   and economic justice -- only words.

Consequently, he tersely concluded: `It aims too low.'(15)

Willing partner

Fraser refused to roll over and meekly accept the dictates of the great powers in this situation, and instead determined that he would do whatever he could to influence the course of future events. In this regard, he found a willing partner in Australian Minister of External Affairs Herbert V. Evatt. With Evatt serving more or less as the head and Fraser serving more or less as the heart or conscience of their effort, they agreed in November 1944 to formulate a joint position negotiated in Wellington. They announced that in shaping the new United Nations they would press for more influence by the smaller powers, a greater role for the General Assembly, the creation of an international trusteeship system on behalf of native peoples, and explicit provisions relating to human rights, particularly those having to do with social and economic welfare. `The Charter of the Organisation', they collectively declared, `should make clear to the peoples of the world the principles on which the action of the Organisation is to be based', and toward this end should draw upon `the essential principles' regarding human rights delineated in the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration of Philadelphia from the International Labor Organisation.(16)

Now the shoe was on the other foot, and the British most certainly did not like it at all. They especially objected to the statement about international trusteeship of colonial possessions which they regarded as a threat to their empire. `In our view', they announced in an unusually sharp comment, `in a matter of this kind all members of the British Commonwealth ought to take every care to coordinate as far as possible their respective views before entering public declarations of policy. We can only express our regret that this public announcement has been made on behalf the Australian and New Zealand governments without prior consultation with, or warning to us'.(17) The replies of both Fraser and Evatt to this protest from London, in the words of even the polite official history, `were, to say the least, unrepentant'.(18)

Strong beliefs

With strong beliefs about what the new United Nations Charter should contain, Fraser decided to personally lead the New Zealand delegation to the San Francisco Conference of 1945. Here he discovered that many others among small and medium-sized states, minority groups, peoples still under colonial rule, and non-governmental organisations shared his assumptions and objectives. In fact, they began to look to him to articulate and represent a number of their shared assumptions and objectives. They believed that the new organisation should be more representative of the world as a whole and an instrument of collective security rather than simply a body controlled by the great powers. They believed that the recent experience of the war and the Holocaust revealed all too clearly that how a nation treats its own people at home can have a dramatic effect upon international peace and security. They also believed that a strong connection existed between the maintenance of peace and social and economic justice. Finally, they shared a deep sense of responsibility to honour their promises -- to keep the pledges that they and other nations had made during the war concerning the principles of the Atlantic Charter and human rights. For these reasons, they responded enthusiastically when Fraser declared in his opening statement before the other delegates:
   I would, therefore, stress that unless in the future we have the moral
   rectitude and determination to stand by our engagements and our principles
   then the procedures laid down in this new Organization will avail us
   nothing; the suffering and the sacrifices our peoples have endured will
   avail us nothing; and the countless lives of those who have died in this
   struggle for security and freedom will have been sacrificed in vain.

   This is a moment of time which will not recur in our lives and it may never
   recur again. The world may well be found for all time by what we, who are
   here today, make of our heavy and onerous responsibility here and now. It
   is my deep fear that if this fleeting moment is not captured the world will
   again relapse into another period of disillusionment, despair, and doom.
   This must not happen!(19)

In order to keep this from happening Fraser refused to simply be a representative from a small power patiently trying to be heard from the sidelines and threw himself into a leadership position during negotiations, thereby securing a most unaccustomed role for New Zealand in international diplomacy.

Three issues

He achieved this by focusing his energies upon three different, but related, issues. In the first instance, the majority of delegates elected him as chairman of the committee that addressed colonial issues, and he embraced the assignment. He used it as an opportunity to correct the complete absence of any provision in the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals on this subject and to address what he called the vision of `the fundamental rights of men and women' around the world.(20) Long before the San Francisco Conference even began, he and Evatt had announced their support for a system of trusteeship that would go far beyond the mandates programme of the League of Nations in placing an international emphasis upon the welfare and the economic, social, and political development of indigenous peoples. Many delegations endorsed the idea of creating a strong Trusteeship Council as an integral part of the United Nations that would have the authority to compel the colonial powers to begin the process of decolonisation and eventually dismantling their empires. Those holding colonies, of course, resisted any plans that might interfere with their interests whatsoever and argued that the international organisation should not be engaged in the theft of their possessions and, like Harold Stassen of the United States delegation, warned that independence was `a dangerous word.(21)

Such sharply conflicting positions revealed a level of politics and diplomacy rarely matched elsewhere at the conference and produced what Fraser himself described as `protracted negotiations' so difficult that they often had to take place in private `outside the Committee'.(22) In the end, the committee recommended the creation of the Trusteeship Council as an integral part of the United Nations to assist in the process of promoting the welfare of indigenous peoples and the right of self-determination.

Secondly, Fraser joined with others to change the proposed powers of the Economic and Social Council. They believed strongly in a connection between peace and social and economic justice and sought to elevate the status of the proposed Economic and Social Council within the organisation. Rather than making this council simply a body responsible to the General Assembly as proposed by the Dumbarton Oaks plan, they wanted it to stand alone, to be a `principal organ' of the United Nations itself, and to possess clear responsibilities in the area of international human rights. These included such matters as economic justice, social and cultural affairs, the right of self-determination, equal treatment and non-discrimination, as well as humanitarian and relief activities. But here a great controversy arose between those who represented labour governments like New Zealand and Australia who wanted to include statements about the right to `full employment' and those like the United States who regarded such a provision as too specific and too communistic.

Strong language

Finally, Fraser worked to insert strong and specific language about human rights into the UN Charter. In sharp contrast with the nearly meaningless language in the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals, he formally proposed that the following language be included in the Charter:
   All members of the Organisation undertake to preserve, protect, and promote
   human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in particular, the rights of
   freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech, and freedom of

This language -- especially the verbs `preserve, protect, and promote' -- proved to be much, much too strong for the other delegations, but the proposal heavily influenced the inclusion of other human rights provisions within the Charter.

On matters of principle, for example, the Charter broke remarkable new ground. In sharp contrast with previous treaties, its Preamble begins with these unusual words: `We the peoples of the United Nations ... reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights....' Article 1 speaks to the questions of the major purposes of the organisation. Among others related to peace, it declares that one of the most important of these is that of promoting and encouraging `human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion'.

Then, in a matter very close to Fraser's heart, Article 55 speaks to the relationship between peace and the welfare of people based upon `respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination', and commits the organisation to promoting `universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all....' The Charter raises the Economic and Social Council to the position of one of the `principal organs' of the United Nations. In addition, Article 68 authorises the establishment of a commission specifically charged with `the promotion of human rights'. This, of course, provides the mandate for the creation of the UN Commission of Human Rights, which went on to draft the important Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such significant developments prompted Fraser at the end of the conference to say with justifiable pride: `No section of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals underwent more extensive changes for the better than that which dealt with international cooperation in economic and social matters'.(24)

Important declaration

Due to the recommendations of Fraser's own committee, the Charter then went on to address the matter of the rights of colonial peoples. It contains an important Declaration Regarding Non-Self-Governing Peoples, explicitly stating that `the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount' and calling for their `just treatment' and `protection against abuses'. It goes on to establish the Trusteeship Council as a `principal organ' of the United Nations and the International Trusteeship System for the administration and supervision of certain colonial territories. Of particular importance, Articles 73 and 76 commit members of the organisation to promote the development of self-government in these areas and `to encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion'. Fraser's contributions to these provisions did not go unnoticed. Indeed, no less an individual than US Secretary of State Edward Stettinius wrote in a personal letter:
   No one at the Conference has brought higher ideals to our work nor more
   persistence in seeking to give effect to them. The Chapter on Trusteeship,
   which owes so much to your guidance, will, I am confident, prove to be one
   of the most historic of our achievements. You have contributed much to
   making it a sure basis for the advancement and welfare of untold

At the end of the San Francisco Conference, New Zealand thus could take justifiable pride in having contributed much to these remarkable achievements on the road to advancing international human rights. It and the supportive members of other delegations managed to make strides that no one else had ever been able to do. Never before in history had the vision of human rights and basic individual liberty in the world been so openly discussed and -- even more importantly -- made an integral part of a negotiated, international agreement. The Charter established that the members of the international community now had a responsibility for the protection of human rights. Fraser hoped, as he said in his final report, that together they had created `a peace that will be real, lasting, and worthy of the dignity of man kind'.(26)

Further task

The Charter of the United Nations set the stage and provided the foundation for future efforts. But it did not attempt to define the precise meaning and full extent of international obligations to respect and observe human rights, for acceptance of such detail could not possibly have been achieved within the time and political constraints of the San Francisco Conference. This task was assigned to the Commission on Human Rights, which began meeting in early 1946 under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt. Under her guidance, the commission worked to draft what they called an `International Bill of Human Rights' composed of three components: a declaration, an international covenant, and measures for the implementation.

Due to a system of rotating membership, New Zealand could not officially serve on the Commission on Human Rights at this particular time. This did not prevent it, however, from playing a very influential role. Indeed, Fraser was not about to let his country remain silent on this issue of international human rights. He already had announced that New Zealand would be the first country in the world to place any territory under the Trusteeship System, and that the agreement over Western Samoa should itself be `a self-contained Bill of Rights'.(27) Shortly thereafter, Berendsen was named chairman of the General Assembly's important Third Committee focused upon Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Affairs. The New Zealand representative on this committee, Agnes McIntosh, used the opportunity to fervently speak on behalf of equal rights for women wherever they might be. At the same time, Fraser appointed a special Human Rights Committee in Wellington (which included historians F.L.W. Wood and J.C. Beaglehole) to carefully study the draft declaration and covenant, and to send its opinions directly to the United Nations for consideration. In addition, he determinedly sent a special observer to New York to monitor all drafting developments, the only country not a member of the Commission on Human Rights to do so.

Great debate

With so much at stake, Fraser once again decided to personally lead the New Zealand delegation to the Paris session of the General Assembly in 1948 when it engaged in `the great debate' on the important Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Joining him were Ann Newlands, a Labour Party stalwart and former Mayor of Timaru, and Colin Aikman, a young and thoughtful official of the Department of External Affairs. Over a period of three months of intense and hotly contested meetings with the Third Committee, they played a prominent role in expanding the scope of internationally recognised rights. That is, they pressed strongly for traditional liberal values such as life, liberty, and freedom of speech in the form of civil and political rights favoured by the West. Yet, at the same time (and to the frustration of a number of their Western colleagues), they supported the inclusion in the Declaration of economic and social rights favoured by the East. To the surprise of many, and in the end, they were successful in this endeavour at combining the two. As Aikman publicly declared:
   My delegation ... attaches equal importance to all the articles .... At the
   same time we regard with particular satisfaction the place which is given
   in the Declaration to social and economic rights. Experience in New Zealand
   has taught us that the assertion of the right of personal freedom is
   incomplete unless it is related to the social and economic rights of the
   common man. There can be no difference of opinion as to the tyranny of
   privation and want. There is no dictator more terrible than hunger.(28)

On two other points, however, the New Zealand delegation took positions designed to advance human rights that were far ahead of the other representatives. They argued that the substance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could not be truly meaningful unless victims of abuse could petition their government or the United Nations directly for assistance. This, said Newlands, was a fundamental right. Subsequent events, of course, demonstrated just how correct she was on this point, for it required years of gross and flagrant violations of human rights to finally convince the rest of the world to establish mechanisms that allowed individual petitions. But for the moment, this position was too extreme for the other members. In addition, Fraser and the delegation argued that the United Nations should couple a declaration with a binding covenant on human rights. They feared that a declaration alone would only state general principles and lack teeth, letting member states off the hook of ever having to assume concrete obligations or enforcement provisions. They also worried that if the Declaration remained by itself, there was less likelihood that any covenant would ever be adopted at all. Others, including most prominently the United States, feared such binding obligations and thus gave their support only to a declaration standing alone. However, the delegation successfully sponsored a resolution calling for the Commission on Human Rights to continue to give priority to working on the covenant and measures of implementation after the historic adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Continuing revolution

These efforts launched a revolution that continues to this day. The Charter's pioneering language and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' bold vision of a common `human family' with standards `for all peoples and all nations' inspired a whole series of binding treaties and covenants, implementation mechanisms, special procedures, declarations, technical assistance and field operations, national constitutions, court decisions, and promotional campaigns all on behalf of human rights that have transformed individual people from mere objects of international pity into subjects of international law. As they first helped to set into motion these various developments, Fraser and his colleagues proceeded with idealism, courage, confidence, and a certain level of naivete. They were not fully aware of all the ramifications or implications of their efforts, nor could they be since this marked such a new and dramatic departure in the history international relations.

Only through time did they and their successors realist that the promotion and observance of international human rights would present a number of challenges as well. They came to understand, for example, that principles are not always the same as practice, and that words are cheaper than action. The majority of those same governments that supported the provisions about human rights in the Charter and the Universal Declaration also voted for Article 2(7) providing that `Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state....' These provisions about the principles of international human rights and the political practice of states insisting upon control over their domestic affairs at the same time would come to be seen in the struggles that followed as being inherently contradictory and mutually exclusive, for as Aikman quickly and correctly observed:
   More important, there will be a constant invitation to the United Nations
   to intervene in what may be properly regarded as the internal affairs of a
   sovereign state. Nevertheless, it is this very encroachment of the
   international community into the affairs of states which lies at the root
   of all progress in the field of human rights.(29)

Genuine shock

Champions for human rights also came to realist that governments change and that states, like individuals, all too often demonstrate their capacity to see the speck in the eyes of others while ignoring the mote in their own. In subsequent meetings of the United Nations dealing with human rights violations by other countries such as the Soviet Union, South Africa, the United States, and Britain, for example, the New Zealand delegation appeared genuinely shocked when others raised questions about how the new international standards might be related to issues like Asian immigration or Maori-European relations. Moreover, when the international community began to discuss the rights of those peoples still in colonial empires, one official nervously wrote, `the step taken ... in discussing self-determination ... may have some remote possibility of weakening our position if the Maoris fifty years, or one hundred years, hence decide to take an unhelpful attitude I must confess that I don't understand the implications of all this human rights business ....'(30)

These problems were very real, but they were in the future. For the moment, after the signing of the Charter and adoption of the Universal Declaration, New Zealand could take justifiable pride in befog a major leader in the global movement for human rights -- a role not generally known and certainly not fully appreciated. On the subject of international human rights it was far out in front of most other nations in the world. New Zealand exercised an influence far out of proportion to the size or physical strength of the country or any previous role in international relations. Thus, for Fraser, his colleagues, and the country, the work on the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was indeed `a very special moment in history'.(31)

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People around the globe will commemorate the revolution that has occurred in establishing international human rights standards and will use the occasion to recall leaders and events that made it possible. In this regard, it is important to acknowledge that at a particular moment in time, New Zealand exercised a leadership position far out of proportion to the size or physical strength of the country or any previous role in international relations and made a most significant contribution to the cause of human rights that the world is still experiencing today.


(1.) Handbook for Candidates, as cited in P.S. O'Connor, `Keeping New Zealand White, 1908-1920', New Zealand Journal of History, vol 2 (1968), pp.41-65.

(2.) Otago Witness, 23 Apr 1919.

(3.) Evening Star, 15 Sep 1920, as cited in O'Connor, p.56.

(4.) NZ High Commissioner, London, to Prime Minister, no 2315, 6 Nov 1933, EA2, 114/3/2(5), National Archives, Wellington.

(5.) Address of 6 Jan 1941, in S. Rosenman (ed), The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York, 1938-50), vol IX, p.672.

(6.) `Atlantic Charter (1)', President's Secretary File, Safe File, Box 1, Franklin Roosevelt Papers, Franklin Roosevelt Library.

(7.) Fraser to Cabinet, tel (10)R; 12 Aug 1941; and Nash, circular telegram, 14 Aug 1941, EA1, 101/1/3 (1).

(8.) Declaration of the United Nations, 1 Jan 1942, in US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS], 1942 (Washington, 1960), vol I, pp. 25-6.

(9.) Fraser Papers, passim, National Archives, Wellington.

(10.) Nash Papers, Folio 142, item 142/ 01124, National Archives, Wellington.

(11.) Nash, in Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives [AJHR], 1944, A-7, pp.2-24.

(12.) Fraser, 30 Jun 1944, in Canadian Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, vol 5, p.4424.

(13.) Andrei Gromyko, as cited in FRUS, 1944 (Washington, 1966), vol I, p.789.

(14.) This is clear from Fraser Papers, 1/ 7; the Nash Papers; and AJHR, 1944, A-7, p. 2.

(15.) `Mr. Berendsen's Comments', EA2, 111/8/6 (2).

(16.) Ibid., `Document ... on International Organization', Mar 1945; and Note for file, `World Organization', concerning a conversation between A.D. McIntosh and H.V. Evatt.

(17.) Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to NZ Minister of External Affairs, 14 Nov 1944, as cited in F.L.W. Wood, The New Zealand People at War, Political and External Affairs (Wellington, 1958), p.322.

(18.) Ibid.

(19.) Draft Speech Notes, 1 May 1945, EA1, 111/8/7(1).

(20.) See ibid. for Fraser's many speech notes.

(21.) Harold Stassen, in `Minutes of the Forty-Fifth Meeting of the United States Delegation', 18 May 1945, in FRUS, 1945, vol I, p.791.

(22.) Report of the PM, `United Nations Conference on International Organization', p.46, EA1, 111/8/ 32(1); and `Papers of the UN Conference', Fraser Papers, 3/2a,

(23.) Report of the PM, `United Nations Conference on International Organization', p. 17. See also `Amendments to the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals Submitted by the Delegation of New Zealand', in UN Conference on International Organization, Documents of the United National Conference on International Organization (New York, 1946-55), vol III, p.272.

(24.) Report of the PM, `United Nations Conference on International Organization,' p. 11, Fraser Papers, 1/7.

(25.) Stettinius to Fraser, 23 Jun 1945.

(26.) Report of the PM, `United Nations Conference on International Organization', p. 14.

(27.) See New York Times, 1 Jan 1946; and Wood, p.344.

(28.) Aikman, speech in General Assembly, 9 Dec 1948, EA2, 108/11/12/1(3).

(29.) Memorandum, `Covenant on Human Rights', 1949, EA2, 108/11/ 13/1(4).

(30.) A.D. McIntosh to F. Shanahan, 1955, McIntosh Papers, SHA4/55/ 082, MFAT, Wellington.

(31.) The expression comes from an interview with Frank Corner.

Paul Gordon Lauren is Regents Professor in the University of Montana's Department of History. He has just published a book on the evolution of international human rights, which will be reviewed in a later issue.
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Author:Lauren, Paul Gordon
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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