86. Position Paper Prepared by the Acting Director of the Office of Inter-American Regional Political Affairs (Dreier)1

MFM D–2/22

Agenda Item II—Effective exercise of representative democracy and respect for human rights, including:

Doctrinal study, taking into account the strict maintenance of the principle of nonintervention, of the possible juridical relation between the effective respect for human rights and the exercise of representative democracy, and the right to set in motion the machinery provided by American positive international law;
Procedure that will make it possible to measure compliance with two fundamental principles of American international law; the effective exercise of representative democracy and respect for human rights; and measures that should be taken in cases of noncompliance with those principles.
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Recommended U.S. Position

The basic position of the United States with respect to this controversial issue involves balancing of various factors. In general our stance should be characterized by the following:

A positive identification of the United States with the forces contributing to the achievement of genuine political democracy.
Opposition to measures which extremists, such as Cuba or possibly Venezuela, might propose which, in our opinion, contravene the principle and rules of nonintervention.
Acceptance, short of point 2 above, of any reasonable policies or steps within the principles of the OAS which a substantial majority of the Latin American countries favor.
Exercise of discreet leadership to help the MFM work out a moderately progressive posture on this subject and avoid a serious division between those governments which pose as champions of democracy and those which are labeled as reactionary or dictatorial.

The United States should make clear, if the need arises as a result of proposals made by other governments, that it is not prepared to enter into any international convention for the guarantee of human rights or the establishment of a court to enforce such a convention. It should also, if necessary, make clear that this Government is not prepared to subordinate its rights regarding the establishment or maintenance of diplomatic relations with other governments to any multilateral decisions except as provided for in the UN Charter and the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro.

The United States Delegation should be authorized to suggest in any discussion of this subject that the OAS, at the proper time and through the proper channels, give consideration to any or all of the following steps:

A declaration, either at the Santiago Meeting of Foreign Ministers or the Quito Conference, that it is a matter of concern to all American States if human rights are subjected to notorious and systematic violation in any American State, and that it is proper for the American governments, individually or collectively, to express their concern over any such situation.
Establishment within the OAS, presumably by the Quito Conference, of a commission which, subject to safeguards against its abuse, might study situations referred to it by the Council of the OAS or by a minimum number of governments, involving the notorious and systematic violation of human rights.
A declaration, presumably by the Inter-American Conference, setting forth the basic features of representative democracy: e.g., the holding of periodic and free elections, the maintenance of an elected legislature, maintenance of an independent judiciary, and guarantees of freedom of speech, press and religion.
Authorize the Secretary General of the OAS to make technical studies of electoral systems of American Republics and to assist governments in obtaining competent technical advisers for the purpose of improving their electoral systems.

Discussion: Attitude Towards Proposals of Other Governments:

  • Point II a) on the agenda is the proposal of Uruguay for a theoretical study. The basic thesis of this study would be that governments which violate principles of the OAS Charter (e.g., the need for representative democracy and respect for human rights) should lose their right to appeal for protection under other principles and procedures of the OAS (e.g., economic cooperation, protection against aggression under the Rio Treaty). While the United States should not support the undertaking of such a study, it should make clear, if there is any discussion of the substance of this proposal, that it is opposed to the basic thought that the rights of members of the OAS, particularly under the Charter and the Rio Treaty, should be subject to the judgment of other States as to their adherence to principles, many of which are stated in vague and general terms.

    At this juncture in the development of international law, and in the development of multilateral machinery within the OAS, there is legally no connection established or recognized between (a) the effective respect for human rights and the exercise of representative democracy and (b) the authority to set in motion the machinery provided under international law whether by treaty or otherwise.

    Without giving consideration to whether states or their governments are “good” or “bad”, “democratic” or “undemocratic”, “respectors” or “disrespectors” of human rights, the United States is of the view that all states and all governments in this day and age are bound to comply with their international obligations, including the obligation to resort to the peaceful procedures and machinery provided both within the OAS and within the United Nations. It is to the interest of all peace-loving states and governments that all states and governments, of whatever description, be able to set in motion such machinery as is available to maintain the peace. That is a primary obligation and a primary right.

    The proposal comprises, as understood, at least three distinct aspects or problems: (1) definition or common understanding as to “human rights” and as to “representative democracy” (2) machinery whereby the American community of States would objectively determine whether such rights are being respected by a particular government; and (3) determination of the precise rights having to do with the utilization of machinery within the OAS or under international law, thereby lost. Even if problems (1) and (2) and (3) were feasible, even if a fair and objective system could be devised for passing judgment [Page 309]upon the government of a sister Republic, even if this were legal, the problem would remain of the lack of legal connection between the possession of the specified prohibited attributes and lack of ability to invoke machinery agreed to by the particular State contained, let us say, in a multilateral treaty. The sanction for violation of human rights or for failing to have the required degree of representative democracy, would thus be to “black ball” the particular State from resort to the peaceful procedures thus far devised among the American Republics. For its part, the United States does not desire to become party to such a sanction, a sanction that would be illegally imposed and as to which there is no legal foundation to be found in either treaty law or in general international law.

    Should, however, the Meeting of Foreign Ministers approve the making of a “Doctrinary study” on “the possible juridical relation between the effective respect for human rights and the exercise of representative democracy, and the authority to set in motion the machinery provided by American positive international law”, the United States should make it clear that it does not exert itself more strenuously to defeat the proposal for the reason that a careful study can only demonstrate that absence of legal right to attach such conditions to the invocation of rights heretofore agreed upon and recognized.

  • Point II b) of the agenda is a Venezuelan proposal which will presumably be implemented by more concrete suggestions regarding methods for forcing individual governments to observe human rights and practice democracy. It is very likely that other Latin American governments, such as Mexico and Argentina, will oppose any suggestion along these lines as constituting a violation of the nonintervention principle. The United States should take a secondary role in this discussion, but at the proper time make clear that it cannot support any proposal which in its view violates the principle of nonintervention as the Venezuelan’s appears to do.

    Any declaration setting forth the basic principles of representative democracy should be consistent with American Declaration on the Essential Rights and Duties of Man3 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations.4

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  • Article 20 of the American Declaration of the Essential Rights and Duties of Man reads “Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the Government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and to take part in popular election, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free.
  • Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:
    Everyone has the right to take part in the Government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
    Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
    The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1418. Confidential.
  2. The designation “MFM D–2/2” is one of a series of designations for papers included in briefing books prepared for use by members of the U.S. delegation to the Fifth Meeting of Consultation. These briefing books consisted of position (D–) papers, background (B–) papers, and reference (Ref–) papers.
  3. Resolution XXX of the Ninth International Conference of American States at Bogotá, adopted May 2, 1948; for text, see Final Act of the Ninth International Conference of American States, Bogotá, Colombia, March 30–May 2, 1948 (Washington, 1948), p. 38.
  4. Resolution 217A (III) adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, December 10, 1948; for text, see United Nations, Official Records of the Third Session of the General Assembly, Part I, 21 September–12 December 1948, Resolutions (Paris, 1948), p. 71.