William Roy Hodgson was a career soldier and diplomat who made a significant contribution to the drafting of the founding documents of the United Nations Organisation at the end of World War II.
He was born in 1892 at Kingston in Victoria. He attended the School of Mines at Ballarat and the Royal Military College at Duntroon. He served in the First World War and was seriously wounded at Gallipoli. He was invalided home in 1917 and served on the General Staff of Army Headquarters in Melbourne.
In 1934 Colonel Hodgson became Assistant Secretary of the Department of External Affairs in Canberra. He was Secretary of the Department from 1935 to 1945 during which time he represented Australia at many international conferences.
During World War II the United Nations (UN) was established to present a united front of allied strength against the axis powers. By October 1943 it had been proposed that the UN become an instrument for promoting international peace. In 1944 representatives from China, the UK, the USSR, and the USA met in Washington DC to draw up a series of proposals for the new organisation. These proposals were circulated for comment among all states at war with the axis powers. Forty-six states sent delegates to the conference which convened at San Francisco in 1945 to draw up the charter of the United Nations.
The charter was signed on 26 June 1945. In 1946, the UN established the Commission on Human Rights, the principal policy-making body for human rights within the UN system. Three Australians made significant contributions to the UN at that time: Herbert V. Evatt, then foreign minister and first President of the General Assembly; Jessie Street, a member of the first UN Women’s Commission; and Col. Hodgson.
Under the chairmanship of Eleanor Roosevelt, human rights activist and widow of former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, the Commission took up the job of defining basic rights and freedoms. Key members of the drafting sub-committee included delegates from France, Lebanon, China, Chile, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and Col. Hodgson.
Col. Hodgson with his military background was chief among those who wanted the Commission to propose mechanisms for enforcement of human rights. He pushed hard for the establishment of some sort of international tribunal where individuals could file complaints. Alternatively, he proposed amending the U.N. Charter to include binding rights commitments, or at the very least for a covenant to make the declaration legally enforceable. He was very knowledgeable about international relations, but not very diplomatic. He was described in a confidential US State document at the time as having a peppery aggressive manner and a blustering and provocative approach which often hid his very thorough understanding of the issues. Col. Hodgson’s focus on enforcement mechanisms was ahead of his time but it often alienated him from the more conciliatory members of the Commission.
In April 1945 Col. Hodgson attended the UN Conference on International Organisation at San Francisco and was then Leader of the Australian Delegation to the UN Preparatory Commission in London. In 1946 Col. Hodgson was Australian representative on the UN Security Council in New York. He was also a member of the Australian Delegation to the General Assembly of the UN in London and of the Australian Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. In 1947 Col. Hodgson became the Head of the Australian Mission to the UN in New York where he was also Australian representative on the Atomic Energy Commission and on the Human Rights Commission.
Col. Hodgson was a representative on the United Nations Commission on the Balkans from April to June 1948, as well as being a representative on the Economic and Social Council of the UN and a delegate to the UN General Assembly in Paris.
In April 1949 Col. Hodgson was Head of Delegation to the Diplomatic Conference in Geneva. In June of the same year he was Head of Delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in Paris. Col. Hodgson represented Australia as Minister to France from 1945 to 1948. He was then Australian Ambassador to France until November 1949 when he was appointed as Head of the Australian Mission to Japan and as the British Commonwealth Representative on the Allied Control Council for Japan. In 1952 Col. Hodgson was appointed Australian High Commissioner to South Africa. He remained in Pretoria as High Commissioner until July 1956. He returned to Australia before retiring in May 1957.
William Hodgson died in Sydney on 24 January 1958.
- Who’s Who 1956
- National Archives of Australia- Person notes (CP 80) for William Hodgson
- National Archives of Australia- Australia and the United Nations
- Frequently asked questions about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Human Rights For All- Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Theme: International racism and anti-racism