344. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Missions1

1682 1. Dept. has under consideration proposal for establishment new UN post of High Commissioner for Human Rights (HC). It envisaged that HC would be in position remedy current imbalance in UN consideration human rights issues. Presently most of almost all focus is on racial discrimination. Little attention given progress we have made or to human rights violations other fields, such as Soviet treatment Jews. Moreover HC might be able to highlight violations in closed societies which by their very nature do not get same attention as human rights problems free world.

Character incumbent any such post obviously crucial to above purposes. Plan calls for him be nominated by SYG and confirmed by GA for term of possibly 5 years. It also proposed that SYG choose network of 10–20 experts in all parts world who would report to and assist HC as appropriate.

2. Functions of HC would be three fold. Firstly prepare annual report to Human Rights Commission (and thence to ECOSOC and GA) on situation on human rights in states members of UN system. Report would be based on variety of sources, governmental, reports from UN specialized agencies, info from UN Secretariat, contributions from correspondents, communications from non-governmental organizations, writings of recognized scholars and experts and other public sources.

In order safeguard member states it planned that prior publication HC’s report governments would have reasonable time comment on reference to their countries. Also report would follow outline articles in Universal Declaration Human Rights in order avoid undue concentration any one country. Moreover HC would not make on-spot-investigations (unless invited by State concerned) nor would he hold hearings or initiate queries to governments.

Secondly it is planned that HC would assist SYG in “critical situations” and give advice both on “human rights aspects of peacekeeping” and on economic and social development programs.

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Finally he would be available at SYG’s direction, to provide his good offices on request from member states.

3. As presently conceived plan does not cover situation in unrecognized Communist regimes. On other hand such coverage, while bringing within HC’s purview some of worst offenders human rights, would raise problems for ChiRep and other representation issues since extension HC’s scope might involve communications between UN and regimes and efforts have regimes participate in any discussions relating their areas. Precedent thus created for other bodies.

4. It of course not at all certain that proposal would eventually emerge in above form or with presently sought safeguards. It also possible Soviets and/or militant neutralists might seek mold this idea or use it to detriment free world in order deflect attention from situation in their own countries.

At same time it probable that if US does not take such initiative, others will; specifically at forthcoming meeting UN Commission on Human Rights opening March 22. If plan approved by Commission, it would then have be considered in ECOSOC and by GA before being put into effect.

5. In view uncertainties as to how this proposal will actually evolve and in view politically sensitive minority problems in many FE countries, request your views ASAP as to potential effects of this idea in your country, without reference to host government at this stage.2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, United Nations, International Year of Human Rights. Confidential. Drafted by Louise McNutt of IO on March 10; cleared in IO, EA, SEA, FE, SPA, ACA, AF, and EUR; and approved by Marshall Green (FE). Sent to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Phnom Penh, Rangoon, Saigon, Seoul, Taipei, Vientiane, and repeated to Canberra, Wellington, Tokyo, and USUN.
  2. In telegram 2261 to USUN, March 20, the Department of State authorized the Mission to the United Nations to support the proposal for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Ibid.)