104. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Wilcox) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)1


  • Need to Revise Proposed Statute for Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Along Lines Approved by the Secretary

IO officers are concerned with the lack of support in the Council of the Organization of American States for the United States position with respect to the proposed Statute for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We understand that only one or two countries have thus far informed us of their support for the U.S. position and no country has yet publicly endorsed the United States position opposing consideration of individual cases.

We are, of course, interested in the outcome of the current discussion on this subject not only because of the substantive responsibility in IO for human rights matters but also because of the impact any action in this field will have in the United Nations.

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Since a vote on the Statute is expected to take place about May 11 in the Council, we would appreciate your assessment of the current tactical situation and your expectation of the extent of support on the part of other members of the Council for the U.S. position when a vote is taken on the Statute.

We wish particularly to stress the following five considerations that are raised by the proposed Statute:

There would no doubt be a sharp reaction in many quarters in the United States and particularly in the Congress against a decision by the Council to give jurisdiction to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to consider complaints filed by private individuals and organizations.
It will not be a sufficient safeguard for the United States to observe that we did not vote for the Statute since under the rules of the OAS Council an absolute majority vote is sufficient to adopt the Statute.
The United States would not be in a position to claim that the action of the Council is ultra vires because the Council was authorized by the Santiago meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs to decide the specific functions to be assigned to the Commission. The decision of the Santiago meeting provided that the Commission would be charged with furthering respect for human rights, and the claim may properly be made by the Council that the provisions of the proposed Statute would further respect for human rights.
There would be serious repercussions on our policy in the UN if the position were taken by the United States in the OAS Council that a decision of the Council is not applicable to the United States since the United States did not vote for the decision. As you know, many important political recommendations are adopted in the United Nations General Assembly in spite of the negative votes of members of the Soviet bloc. This has been the situation, for example, with respect to Korea, Hungary and the initial establishment of the outer space committee. It has consistently been the firm position of the United States in the United Nations that Soviet bloc countries cannot properly claim that General Assembly recommendations are not applicable to them simply because of their negative votes.
Accordingly, it follows from the above that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights may properly have jurisdiction to consider complaints from American individuals and organizations with respect to human rights conditions in the United States despite the negative vote of the United States on the Statute, if the Statute is adopted in its present form.

We wish to call your attention to the above considerations because they underline the seriousness of the situation facing us with respect to the proposed Statute for the Inter-American Commission on [Page 352]Human Rights. These considerations necessitate the strongest responsible steps being taken in negotiations with members of the Council in Washington as well as in approaches to Foreign Offices to obtain absolute majority support in the Council for the revision of the Statute of the Commission along the lines approved by the Secretary.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 371.707/4–2260. Official Use Only.