The Human Rights Division of the Department of Social Affairs consisted of an office of the Director, five Sections, and a secretariat. The five Sections were concerned with: (I) the work of the Commission on Human Rights; (II) freedom of information, forced labour, freedom of association, and the plight of survivors of concentration camps; (III) the work of the Commission on the Status of Women; (IV) prevention of discrimination, protection of minorities, abolition of slavery, and problems of statelessness; and (V) the work of the Ad Hoc Commission on Prisoners of War. The Human Rights Division gathered material relevant to these subjects and issues, undertook research, and supported the work of associated Commissions. Records of the Human Rights Division originate from Sections I, II, III, and V and span from 1932 to 1960. There are no records for Section IV.
Records for Section I pertain to the International Bill of Rights Project of the American Law Institute and the “Universal Declarations of Human Rights,” a group of unpublished studies by Dr. Luis Recasens-Siches.
Section II records relate to the Ad Hoc Committee on Forced Labour. They include memoranda between members of the Committee and the Division about hearings held by the Committee from 1951 to 1953. The files also contain reports and testimony about the existence of forced labour camps from non-profit organizations and individuals such as the American human rights activist Stetson Kennedy. The reports and testimony were submitted to the Committee by the United States Mission, the Chinese Delegation, and the International Commission Against Concentration Camp Practices.
Records from Section III detail the Section’s work for the Commission on the Status of Women. The records include: reports, working papers, and meeting agenda generated by the Commission; International Labour Organization (ILO) reports on the post-World War II employment of women; and correspondence between Section staff and representatives of Member States, the ILO, and NGOs. The correspondence largely pertains to the General Assembly resolution of 11 December 1946 [A/RES/56(I)] on the political rights of women, the inclusion of gender in the non-discrimination clause of an ILO draft convention, and a questionnaire sent to Member States on the legal status and treatment of women within the respective states.
There are also chronological files, which include: weekly reports prepared by the Chief of the Section and sent to the Director of the Division; Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolutions; and correspondence between the Chief of the Section, the Director of the Division, and other Division staff. The correspondence relates to: radio broadcasts produced by the Section featuring remarks by notable women such as Eleanor Roosevelt; a married woman’s right to a nationality; aid for survivors of Holocaust “experiments”; the right to equal pay for equal work; prostitution; and other subjects.
Section V records consist of bound and unbound lists of prisoners of war which were submitted by Member States to the Ad Hoc Commission on Prisoners of War. The lists identify foreign prisoners detained within the borders of Member States, as well as nationals detained in other countries. Some of the lists group the names into categories such as war criminals, deceased, escaped, and repatriated. The lists often contain personal information, for example, cause of death, next of kin, birth date, and army rank. Some of the lists include accompanying documentation, such as: officially certified declarations of absence for German prisoners; postcards sent by German prisoners later declared missing; petitions from an organization of relatives of Japanese prisoners; letters to family members from Japanese detainees in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); maps depicting locations of Japanese repatriates in China; and photographs, testimony, and correspondence relating to Italian soldiers held in the USSR.
S-0918 also includes records of Ezekiel Gordon, a senior officer in the Human Rights Division of the Department of Social Affairs (DSA) and the Division of Human Rights of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) from 1947 to 1962. Prior to joining the United Nations, Gordon served in the French Army in World War I and was a member of the Palestine bar. The bulk of Gordon’s records date from 1945 to 1949 and include reports on the protection of minorities, statelessness, and human rights. The records also contain Gordon’s subject files, which include reports on genocide and Gordon’s research material on the topic of slavery.