347. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Proposal for a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

On March 20 the Secretary authorized the U.S. Representative to the Commission on Human Rights to support, if there was a broad consensus in the Commission, a Costa Rican proposal to create an office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.2 Our delegation was instructed to refrain from taking any initiative in introducing or pressing the proposal, and to try to assure that any resolution adopted would be compatible with United States interests. The Commission on Human Rights ended its 1965 session without taking any action on the proposal. However, there is a possibility that the proposal will be considered again later in the year, either at the summer session of the Economic and Social Council or in the General Assembly.

We consider it inevitable that the United Nations will become more deeply involved in human rights problems. The question becomes therefore, not whether the United Nations should concern itself with human rights questions but how it will do so. The United Nations’ involvement with human rights in recent years has been characterized by a heavy preoccupation with race issues. Too little attention has been given to the fundamentals of human justice everywhere and the record of our own progress has not had the consideration it deserves.

The Costa Rican proposal envisages the appointment of a distinguished elder statesman as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to advise the Secretary-General, provide good offices in response to requests from member governments, and prepare an annual report to serve as a focal point for United Nations human rights discussions.

While there is some risk involved, if the issue is raised, we intend to support this initiative.

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We believe participation in the development of the proposal will give us a good chance to steer the institution into a pattern acceptable to us. On the other hand, opposition or aloofness would entail unfavorable consequences for us in the United Nations, quite apart from the adverse repercussions among domestic organizations interested in human rights.

Benjamin H. Read 3
Executive Secretary
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, State Department. Limited Official Use.
  2. The authorization was transmitted to New York in telegram 2261, March 20; see footnote 2, Document 344. On July 6 Costa Rica formally requested inclusion of the High Commissioner position on the agenda of the Commission on Human Rights. Text of the Costa Rican proposal is UN doc. E/L. 1080.
  3. Grant Hilliker signed for Reed.