A/MS files, lot 54 D 291 (V), “UNA/P master file”

Paper Prepared by the United Nations Planning Staff, Bureau of United Nations Affairs


Human Rights

i. character of issue

The Charter and the Universal Declaration established certain world-wide and long-term goals in the field of human rights which the US has consistently supported. From the outset practically all non-Soviet bloc Member States, including and often led by the US, set about to find agreed ways and means to promote the achievement of these goals. But in this process some voting majorities, in the main constituted by the African-Arab-Asian and Latin American blocs and often augmented by the Soviet bloc, began to direct their energies along lines which the US came to consider objectionable; specifically these majorities sought 1) to reach certain goals through UN resolutions purportedly based upon general Charter commitments and directed either at a particular state (i.e., South Africa) or a particular small class of states (i.e., possessing colonies), 2) to achieve establishment of a UN obligation to give effect within a reasonable time to certain new economic, social and cultural “rights” which the US at best could consider as long-range objectives (by contrast with purely political rights which have long been the subject of codification in our society), and 3) to employ UN treaties to establish these and other human rights. Consequently, there arose for the US a strain and stress in the UN, which has been accentuated by: a) certain fears aroused in the US and some other countries of “western” background that the UN might one day attempt to interfere in any one of them in human rights matters whether or not already provided for in their respective constitutional systems, and b) the use by both Soviet and anti-Soviet forces of human rights as a symbol in Cold War propaganda in the UN.

ii. background

Charter Articles 55 and 56 provide for the promotion of “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedom for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”. Articles 13 and 62 authorize the GA and ECOSOC to make recommendations to advance the realization of such rights and freedoms for all. Pursuant to Article 68 ECOSOC established in 1946 a Commission for the promotion of human rights. In the same year the GA adopted a number of resolutions relating to broad principles in the field of human [Page 128] rights, and also was asked to consider a human rights question in a. particular country, namely, the treatment of the Indian minority in South Africa.

In 1947 the Commission on Human Rights started the drafting of a declaration of human rights and a covenant on human rights, the former a statement of long-range principles and the latter a treaty to give effect to the former. In 1948 the GA, by a vote of 48–0–8 (Soviet bloc, Saudi Arabia and South Africa), Honduras and Yemen being absent, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and it also adopted a Genocide Convention. Work on the draft Covenant on Human Rights proceeded slowly in the Commission, and conventions on freedom of information and the political rights of women were considered in the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on the Status of Women respectively.

Unsuccessful attempts were made in the Commission on Human Rights to give individuals, as well as states, the right to charge a state with the violation of the draft Covenant on Human Rights. In 1949 Australia and the USSR proposed to add articles on economic, social and cultural “rights” to the civil rights in the draft Covenant, and in 1950 the GA decided to do so. The civil rights were comparable to-those in the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, and theretofore were the only ones enumerated in the draft Covenant. In 1951 the US, supported by India, France, UK, Lebanon and Uruguay, persuaded the GA to split the original draft Covenant into one on “Civil and Political Rights”, and another on “Economic Social and Cultural Rights”, which since then have been under consideration in the Commission. The proposed Convention on Freedom of Information continues to be considered in ECOSOC practically every year. In 1948 the-GA completed the Genocide Convention, which has been ratified by forty-one countries but not by the US, and in 1952 the GA completed the Conventions on Political Rights of Women, and International Right of Correction. The US did not sign the latter two conventions.

The only GA actions with regard to human rights in specific countries have been on the Cold War charge by the US and its friends that Bulgaria, Hungary and Rumania were violating the human rights provisions of their peace treaties, and on the Indian and other Arab-Asian charges against South Africa on account of its racial policies. Anti-colonial states successfully limited practical application of a resolution on self-determination in the GA in 1952 to the 8 Member States with colonies. In a Cold War initiative directed against the USSR, the US and UK brought about the establishment jointly by the UN and ILO in 1951 of an ad hoc Committee to study and report on forced labor.

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iii. united states policies

Strong pressure from representatives of American non-governmental organizations, attending the 1945 San Francisco Conference to draft the UN Charter, led the US Delegation to take the initiative there to include human rights provisions in the Charter. The US has consistently supported the human rights objectives of the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Eisenhower in a message to the Commission on Human Rights on April 7, 1953, described the Declaration as “a significant beacon in the steady march toward achieving human rights and fundamental freedoms for all”.

The US has been in the forefront in initiating proposals for UN programs for the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the following fields: freedom of information, the status of women, genocide, forced labor, trade union rights and prisoners of war. But when American press opinion in 1951 and 1952 turned against the draft Newsgathering Convention, the United States dropped its interest in it and also continued to oppose two other draft freedom of information conventions, i.e., a general one and one entitled “International Right of Correction”, because all of them included many restrictions as well as freedoms.

The US urged and supported strong condemnatory language in the resolution adopted in the GA with respect to the alleged violation of treaty obligations on human rights by Bulgaria, Hungary and Rumania; but it always has sought to moderate GA resolutions on the ticklish South African race questions, while maintaining that the UN was competent to discuss them notwithstanding Article 2(7) of the Charter.

Between 1947, when the initial draft of the Covenant on Human Rights was submitted to the Commission by the UK delegation, and January 20, 1953, the US supported completion of, first, one draft Covenant, and, later, the two Covenants. However, the US always and publicly emphasized the distinction between the civil rights long enumerated in the draft covenant, which were similar to those already established by the US Constitution, and the new social, economic and cultural “rights” which were added to that Covenant in 1951 by the Human Rights Commission at the direction of the GA and which the US has sought to confine to a second draft covenant.

On April 6, 1953, the US announced a new policy, rejecting in the following terms the use of covenants now to attain the long-term human rights goals of the Charter:

“While we shall not withhold our counsel from those who seek to draft a treaty or covenant on human rights, we do not ourselves look upon a treaty as the means which we would now select as the proper and most effective way to spread throughout the world the goals of [Page 130] human liberty to which this nation has been dedicated since its inception. We therefore do not intend to become a party to any such covenant or present it as a treaty for consideration by the Senate”.

In a statement issued April 7, 1953, President Eisenhower asked the US Delegation to present to the Commission on Human Rights in session at Geneva “positive” UN action programs “which we feel will contribute to that recognition of human rights and fundamental freedoms which people are seeking throughout the world”. The next day the US Delegation proposed the following three UN programs to the Commission:

studies of various aspects of human rights throughout the world, which the Commission might then consider for possible general recommendations;
annual reports on developments in the field of human rights by each Member Government, with the assistance of a national advisory committee, for consideration in the Commission; and
advisory services on specific aspects of human rights similar to existing UN advisory services in the economic and social fields, providing experts to countries requesting the services, also scholarships and fellowships, and arrangements for seminars.

When announcing its new policy on the draft Covenant on Human Rights, the US also announced that it did not intend either to sign the Convention on the Political Rights of Women completed a short time earlier by the 7th GA, or to press at this time for ratification of the Genocide Convention pending since 1949 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

iv. major difficulties facing the united states

The human rights questions that have created major difficulties for the US in the UN are: a) South African treatment of its race questions; b) efforts to convert general self-determination resolutions into specific anti-colonial measures; and c) various UN treaties on human rights including those on freedom of information. Growing US reluctance for various reasons to join voting majorities mustered in recent years behind these projects to give effect to certain broad principles, has placed the US more frequently in the minority opposition than it was wont to be in the early years of the UN. Moreover, failure of the US later to ratify and sign conventions such as those on Genocide and Political Rights of Women, for which we had earlier voted in the UN, increased our difficulties.

The perennial and ticklish question of South African treatment of its race conflict questions has confronted the US with three questions of importance, i.e., 1) whether the GA should consider the matter at all; 2) whether the GA should call upon South Africa to desist in enforcing [Page 131] a specific act of legislation; and 3) whether the GA should decide that South African segregation (apartheid) policy was based on racial discrimination. From the 1st GA in 1946 the US would have preferred to see the case settled bilaterally outside the UN; and finally at the 7th GA the US expressed doubt that the draft Arab-Asian resolution presented to that GA was expedient even if it did not transcend the powers of the UN as alleged by South Africa. US reluctance to join the voting majority grouped behind perennial Arab-Asian resolutions strongly condemnatory of South Africa has often led it into minority positions; for example, at the 7th GA the US and 15 other countries abstained in the Ad Hoc Political Committee vote (30–12–16) on a paragraph calling upon South Africa to suspend implementation of its Group Areas Act segregating races, although the US later joined the majority in voting (41–1–16) for the resolution as a whole including the contentious paragraph.

In the 7th GA the US found objectionable the efforts of the anti-colonial group to convert a general resolution on self-determination into one having practical application only to the small number of colonial powers including the US. When its efforts failed both to “universalize” the resolution, by making it applicable also to those states that had lost their independence, and otherwise to improve it, the US voted against the resolution which was nevertheless carried in the GA by a vote of 40–14(US)–6. This pressure by the Latin American, African-Arab-Asian and Soviet blocs had been foreshadowed by several votes at the 5th and 6th GAs.

Growing US reluctance to agree: a) to inclusion in the draft human rights covenant of the new social, economic and cultural “rights”, b) to use the treaty process to achieve human rights objectives, and c) to the contents of the various draft conventions on Freedom of Information, and International Eight of Correction, often brought the US into opposition to the positions of majorities, largely the Arab-Asian-African and Latin American blocs, in the UN on these matters. For example, after persistent US opposition to the Convention on International Eight of Correction, the 3rd Committee at the 7th GA finally voted for the Convention 25–19 (US)–10, and it was opened for signature in 1953.

Since announcement in April 1953 of the new US policy against signature and ratification of the proposed Covenants on Human Eights, no other country has yet expressed a willingness to take the same position. Although Australia, the UK, France and Belgium expressed dissatisfaction with the present draft of the Covenants, they did not preclude later approval of them if appropriately revised. The UK (together with 7 other European countries) has already ratified the European Convention on Human Eights and Fundamental Freedoms.

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In considering human rights matters in the UN, Arab-Asian-African-Latin American Delegates tend to have the following characteristics which make it difficult for the US to deal with them:*

They generally attend UN meetings without instructions and speak idealistically, holding up to Western states western ideals in abstract form, while ignoring the inadequacies of their own Governments and countries.
In matters concerning discrimination, their intensity and emotionalism make it next to impossible to reason with them. Many are colored, and those that are not feel a close bond to those that are. India has repeatedly taken the initiative in insisting that the GA condemn the policy of apartheid (segregation) practiced in the Union of South Africa with respect to Indians in that country. The Arab-Asian-African countries are increasingly exasperated that they cannot “force” South Africa through perennial GA resolutions to modify its domestic policies. South Africa is increasingly exasperated by these resolutions and threatens from time to time to withdraw from the UN if they persist.
Although, as pointed out above in point 1, the Arab-Asian-African-Latin American countries are willing to urge a higher standard of human rights throughout the world, irrespective of low standards often prevailing in their own countries, they prefer to press for a greater application of the principles of human rights in non-self-governing territories than they are willing to see applied to the people in their own countries. They voted overwhelmingly to limit implementation of the principle of self-determination to people in non-self-governing territories, and were particularly desirous to avoid an express recognition of its application to people in their own countries.
Delegates from the Arab-Asian-African-Latin American countries insist on use of the treaty process for the promotion of human rights, although they do not preclude the use of education, publicity and other means. Accordingly, they now sharply disagree with the US.

Soviet bloc action in the UN has the following characteristics:

The Soviet bloc has declared that the UN should neither consider, nor give any judgment with respect to, either individual cases or individual countries; and accordingly they voted against consideration of charges of violation of human rights in Bulgaria, Hungary and Rumania. However, whenever the bloc senses an opportunity to aggravate trouble in the free world, it does so, as when it supported UN consideration of the South Africa race conflict cases raised by India and other countries.
The Soviet bloc votes with the majority on general human rights issues, particularly those relating to non-self-governing territories in order to increase trouble in the free world.
The Soviet bloc joins Arab-Asian-African-Latin American countries in voting for utilization of the treaty process in the human rights field. However, it insists on omission of any international implementation machinery from every treaty; and, when it signs or [Page 133] ratifies a treaty, it excludes by reservations the application of any such machinery provided in the treaty.

The US and the European-Commonwealth countries (other than India and Pakistan) fairly consistently vote together on human rights issues. However, the UK and several other European countries joined South Africa in voting against the competence of the UN to consider the South African race conflict case, while the US voted for inscription. The US has received some support from the European-Commonwealth countries as to its treaty policy in the field of freedom of information.

v. pending major trends

Two matters continue to be of major difficulty to the US, namely, attempts by majorities of member states (a) to have the UN give attention to human rights in a specific country, i.e., the Union of South Africa, and (b) to achieve Charter objectives through treaties.

South Africa shows no inclination to deviate from its race segregation (apartheid) policies. Moreover, India and other Arab-Asian-African countries show no inclination to desist in demanding that South Africa change those policies to conform with Charter obligations.

Arab-Asian-African-Latin American countries continue to press for the utilization of the treaty process to implement the human rights objectives of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Extension of US treaty policy to all treaties in the field of human rights means that the US will be in a minority position in the GA as far as all treaties in the human rights field are concerned.

  1. “African” includes only Egypt, Ethiopia and Liberia. [Footnote in the source text.]