IO Files: US/A/C.3/280

United States Delegation Working Paper1


An informal Working Group, including representatives of India, Pakistan, Mexico, France, Lebanon, Cuba, the United Kingdom and the United States, which has been discussing the possibility of reaching agreement concerning an acceptable text of the draft Convention on Freedom of Information has now concluded that agreement on an acceptable text is not likely at this time. When the group broke off its discussions last week, the positions maintained by its various members were as follows:

The United Kingdom and the United States, joined at the last moment by the representative of Lebanon, took the position that further action on the draft Convention should be postponed until the General Assembly has taken definite action on the Covenant on Human Rights;
The representatives of France and Mexico, while admitting the impossibility of reaching agreement on an acceptable text at this time, felt that it would, nevertheless, be useful to make another formal effort to arrive at an acceptable text and were inclined to suggest either that the Assembly call upon a special Technical Conference to complete the Convention or, alternatively, that Committee 3 might appoint a Sub-Committee to spend a few days making another attempt to reach agreement. Presumably, the Cuban Delegate will favor the French-Mexican position as well as the Indian and Pakistan Delegations who were not present at the last meeting of the Group.

From the United States point of view, the Working Group discussions proved useful (1) in convincing Mr. Azkoul of Lebanon of the [Page 530] desirability of postponing further work on the Convention and (2) demonstrating again that the differences of opinion concerning an acceptable text are so great as to rule out the possibility of reaching agreement at this time on an acceptable compromise text.

It is suggested that Political Officers responsible for work in Committee 3 should now begin to acquaint as many other delegations as possible with the United States position. In so doing it is important to bear in mind that our position is essentially the same as the one we took last year, that it is an unpopular one, but one which other delegations reluctantly supported last year. Consequently, it will be desirable to avoid giving the impression of a United States campaign to kill this Convention. It is suggested that the matter be brought up rather casually with other delegations with no attempt to put pressure on them.

Following is a summary of the arguments which have been found most effective in persuading other delegations to support us on this matter:

A specific convention dealing with one of the rights to be set forth in the Covenant on Human Rights should not be completed before the Covenant itself has been agreed upon. Until there is agreement on the general provisions governing freedom of information which will be set forth in the Covenant (Article 14 in the present draft of the Covenant), it will not be feasible to agree upon the specific elements of this right which shall be guaranteed in a detailed convention. Obviously, the detailed convention should be based on accepted general principles and, therefore, we should await the completion of the Covenant before proceeding further with the Convention.
There is widespread disagreement concerning the provisions which should be included in the draft Convention on Freedom of Information. This disagreement was shown when the Third Committee at the Second Part of the Third Regular Session of the General Assembly gave up its attempt to complete the Convention in the midst of great confusion. Consultations with a large number of other governments since that time, and specifically the discussions held by the above-mentioned Working Group in recent weeks, have convinced us that, if anything, there is more disagreement now than there was at the Third Session. It would appear, therefore, that the calling of a special Conference or the establishment of a sub-committee of Committee 3 would not be productive of useful results.
Another argument, which should be used only with delegations from Western Europe, British Commonwealth and the Scandinavian countries, is that we are convinced that any Convention which can be completed at this time will restrict rather than expand the area of freedom of information. So many governments are preoccupied with considerations of national security and with ways to cope with political subversion that they would be compelled to support restrictive [Page 531] modifications in the original text of this Convention. While these modifications may be valid in terms of present political realities, it would be undesirable to establish them in an international convention and thus give them a kind of permanent status and respectability which at a later time may prove undesirable.

For these reasons the United States favors the adoption of a resolution along the following lines to dispose of this item:

Draft Convention on Freedom of Information

The General Assembly

Reaffirming its belief in the fundamental importance of freedom of information as a basic human right and as a means of furthering and protecting all other freedoms;

Considering that in Resolution 313, of the Fourth Session, the General Assembly, decided “to postpone further action on the Draft Convention on Freedom of Information to the Fifth Regular Session of the General Assembly and pending receipt of the Draft International Convention on Human Rights or a progress report thereon”;

Considering that it has been decided not to complete the Covenant on Human Rights at this Session of the General Assembly, but to request the Commission on Human Rights to consider the draft Covenant again at its next session prior to its final consideration by the General Assembly at its Sixth Session;

Decides to postpone further consideration of the Draft Convention on Freedom of Information until it has taken definite action on the Draft Covenant on Human Rights.

  1. Circulated by Mr. De Palma to the area experts who were serving as advisers to the United States Delegation.