Date of Award

Spring 5-2020

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Advisor/Committee Chair

Richard Fogarty, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christopher Pastore, Ph.D.


This thesis examines the impact that the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Malik had on both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the greater trajectory of international cooperation as orchestrated by the United Nations. The study begins by looking at the “Big Three” conferences organized by the Allied Powers near the end of World War II and the hope that American President Franklin D. Roosevelt had for what could be accomplished by international cooperation. From there, we follow the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Malik as members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Specifically, I highlight the socially progressive imperative championed by Chairwoman Eleanor Roosevelt and the emphasis on the individual over the state that ECOSOC President Charles Malik believed should be the first priority of any future legislation produced by the U.N. Finally, the thesis considers subsequent legislation and court cases that are seen as victories for universal human rights, and that draw on the UDHR as their justification and philosophical predecessor.

Drawing on the words of Roosevelt and Malik through their diaries, personal correspondence, and the transcripts of United Nations meetings and debates, this essay refutes the critiques of those who believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be a failed attempt at universal legislation, it challenges those who view Roosevelt and Malik as merely figureheads and pawns in a game of compromises among the strongest nations, and it defines the deliberations that produced the UDHR in 1947 and 1948 as a pivotal moment in the course of international cooperation and ‘universal’ legislation. Before December 10, 1948, the balance of power and the terms of peace were dictated by the strongest states. After that day, the United Nations, guided by the UDHR, determined to give every state and every individual an equal voice in the debates and products of international cooperation.