381. Letter From the Representative to the United Nations (Goldberg) to President Johnson 1

Dear Mr. President:

I believe the time has arrived when your Administration should move ahead on international human rights conventions, as it has so effectively on human rights in the United States. Accordingly, I urge that you use your leadership, persuasiveness and skills to assure the approval by the Senate of the ratification of certain United Nations human rights treaties.

Conventions on slavery, forced labor and political rights of women have languished in the Senate since they were submitted by President Kennedy in July, 1963.2 I believe that only your leadership can bring about Senate action on these three conventions. You might wish to put the particular imprint of your Administration on our efforts in the international human rights field by adding one or more conventions to the package transmitted to the Senate by President Kennedy. The International Labor Organization convention on discrimination in employment and occupation would be a particularly appropriate addition, [Page 831] since it covers much the same ground as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.3

Ratification of these treaties would require no changes in domestic law in the United States. But it would be of immense value in helping to set and uphold international standards—a fact that the United States accepted when it ratified the UN Charter. Moreover, ratification of human rights conventions would represent a new, liberal departure in our international relations. It would also enable us to answer Soviet criticism in a psychologically important area of international cooperation.

You may recall that the Bricker amendment controversy was a principal factor in our unwillingness to participate in international human rights conventions under the Eisenhower Administration. President Kennedy decided to consider each such convention on its merits and, accordingly, transmitted the three conventions mentioned above to the Senate.

Ratification of human rights conventions is the logical complement to the domestic effort in the racial field begun by President Kennedy and brought to fruition under your leadership. In the present circumstances we are losing much of the international advantage that could be gained from a truly exceptional domestic record.

A number of non-governmental organizations in the United States have joined together in an Ad Hoc Committee on Human Rights and Genocide Treaties, to urge the ratification of these instruments. Among the members of the Ad Hoc Committee are the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Democratic Action, the United Auto Workers, AFL–CIO, and various religious organizations. I am confident that, with your encouragement, these groups could contribute to understanding in the Senate and the American public of the importance of US ratification of human rights conventions. I urge that you meet with representatives of the Ad Hoc Committee.

There are two frequently advanced arguments against ratification of human rights conventions; first, it is said that such treaties are an improper use of the treaty power. I cannot imagine the Supreme Court would hold that the protection of the flight of birds is a greater national concern than the protection of human beings. Yet the United States has ratified bilateral treaties on this subject with Mexico and Canada. Second, it is argued that such treaties may require domestic legislation which would distort the normal state-federal relationships. I cannot accept this argument. In any case the human rights conventions currently before the Senate, except for the Genocide Convention, would require no implementing legislation.

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Finally, a few thoughts about the Genocide Convention,4 which has been before the Senate since 1949. I firmly believe there are no legal impediments to ratification, and consider that ratification should take place as soon as possible. I recognize, however, that the requirement of implementing legislation, including a federal murder statute, complicates the task of securing the necessary support in the Senate. Thus, even though there is strong support for it among certain groups, especially Jewish organizations, I recommend that you not push for ratification until after the Senate has approved other United Nations human rights conventions.

It is my fervent hope that you will take a strong stand in favor of ratification of human rights conventions. I would myself be glad to undertake advance consultations with members of the Senate before any public statement is made and to testify in support of ratification.

Respectfully yours,

Arthur J. Goldberg
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, United Nations, Vol. 4. No classification marking.
  2. For text of President Kennedy’s letter to the Senate on these treaties, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 586.
  3. For text of P.L. 88–352, July 2, 1964, see 78 Stat. 241.
  4. For text, see 78 UNTS 27.