316. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs1


Throughout its history the United States has attached particular importance to human rights, and welcomes the action designating 1968, the twentieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as International Human Rights Year. We appreciate the efforts of the officers of the committee in preparing the working paper submitted by the chairman,2 and offer the following preliminary comments on the issues before the Committee.

Dividing the year into periods for emphasis on different aspects of human rights should help greatly in assuring attention in every country to the full scope of the Universal Declaration and the importance of each of the fundamental concepts which give meaning to human dignity and equality. The listing in paragraph 14 indicates a division by months and we would favor this approach. While the suggested headings provide basic coverage, we would like to see greater emphasis on ways individuals can seek protection and redress when they feel their rights have been violated. One possibility would be to associate “the right to effective remedy” with “equality before the law.”

We hope that human rights year can strengthen concern for implementation through international as well as national measures. At the international level, Committee 3 discussion of implementation proposals during the 19th General Assembly may provide adequate study materials. We are not aware of any comprehensive survey of national machinery. Many countries have recently been moving for improvement, and the Committee should plan promptly to obtain an information document. A study might be undertaken by an expert body such as [Page 558] the Subcommission on Discrimination and Minorities, or the Secretary General might be asked to prepare an analysis of present institutions.

Specific projects along the line of those proposed are the key to citizen participation in human rights observances, as well as to effective cooperation by the many agencies of government. In order to profit by the experience and capacities of both the specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations in consultative status, representatives of these groups might be included in an informal working party to consider these proposals. The non-governmental organizations are in a particularly effective position to relate the objectives of human rights year to the needs of individuals; where these organizations have local programs, they may be able to initiate community audits.

With regard to the specific suggestions put forward in the working paper, the US would like to add one proposal, namely, that a permanent human rights exhibit be given a prominent place in the public entrance to UN headquarters. Such an exhibit would contribute to the goal of increasing individual awareness of human rights. Also, with regard to UNESCO, we believe it might be asked to undertake a major effort to enlist the cooperation of academic institutions, in addition to promoting artistic events.

We believe it is premature at this time, to make any recommendation with regard to a Conference on Human Rights in 1968. More thorough and careful consideration than has thus far been possible needs to be given to the type and form that the observance and celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration might take. We do believe, however, that steps can be initiated to prepare the way for an effective, realistic and meaningful celebration. The regional seminars, to be organized in 1966 and 1967 under the Human Rights Advisory Services Program, and which include representatives of non-governmental organizations as well as government representatives, can provide a broad base for consultation on the extent of progress and evaluation of techniques which have been useful in advancing human rights. As necessary, awards under the fellowship program could be used to assure adequate and meaningful documentation.

We favor intensification of national efforts in connection with the 1968 Human Rights Year, and share the hope that these will aid in the achievement of longstanding objectives. However, we believe the form in which some of these objectives are stated in para. 40 of the working paper tends to diminish the scope and promise of these rights and freedoms. As was demonstrated in the supplementary convention on the abolition of slavery adopted in 1956, understanding of the varied forms of slavery has expanded greatly in the thirty years since the 1926 convention was developed under the League of Nations. Similarly, an enlarged understanding is apparent in the declarations and conventions on [Page 559] discrimination now under consideration in the United Nations, and has also been apparent with regard to the nature of self-determination and independence. One of the virtues of the Universal Declaration is that its implications grow as our understanding grows, and we should be careful not to cut back on its potential scope and increasing impact.

For this reason, we suggest that the plan for 1968 take as objectives the organization of national advisory committees and the intensification of educational programs, as recommended in the later sections of Part III, and that the goals listed in para. 40 be made priority items for attention in these committees and programs. We would also favor listing, as a third objective, surveys in depth of the practical application of standards adopted in recent years for the elimination of discrimination, with a view to cooperation between governments and the UN, the ILO, UNESCO and other agencies in evaluating progress. We believe this approach is more realistic and will be more likely to produce the desired results. For example, since all Members of the UN have repudiated slavery as a legal institution, in most cases many years ago, elimination of slavery may be regarded as offering little opportunity for action at the national level. The need for additional measures is therefore more likely to be recognized through the findings of a national advisory committee. While the situation with regard to discrimination is quite different, the complete elimination of discrimination on all grounds, or indeed on any ground, calls for examination of attitudes and often changes in laws or customs which cannot be achieved without an on-going program of community education to counter ignorance and self-righteousness.

In addition to leadership on the particular objectives discussed above, national advisory committees can provide grassroots guidance on special problems and opportunities within each country. The documentation assembled by the Human Rights Commission in 1962 is indicative of the variety and positive value of such committees. In many countries the National Commission for UNESCO can also provide leadership. While it is useful to establish a particular group as a national advisory committee in the field of human rights, experience in the United States has demonstrated the advantage of cooperation among a number of different committees and groups, both official and non-governmental.

In the same way, educational campaigns at the national level would embrace the special interests of each country along with particular emphases in the international program. Many countries, including the United States have regularly observed December 10 as Human Rights Day, with cooperation from the mass media, schools, civic and other organizations. The Human Rights Year should stimulate still more vigorous educational programs.

[Page 560]

A new history of the Universal Declaration will be needed in connection with Human Rights Year. The plans for this history developed in connection with the Fifteenth Anniversary seem adequate and we have confidence in the Secretary General’s capacity to prepare it on his own authority. We see no need for a special editorial board; if the Secretary General has questions regarding earlier human rights documents or other matters in which a particular member state has unique interest, he is free to seek the cooperation of the government concerned.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, SOC 14. No classification marking. Drafted by J. Sisco; cleared by Mark B. Trenary (OIA), Francis O. Allen (AF), Nathan A. Pelcovits (UNP), Richard B. Bilder (L/UNA), Edward B. Persons (OES), Means (Labor), Gates (HEW), Roger Pineau (CU/MPP), Constantine Warvariv (OES), Francis M. Rogerson (US–CRR); and approved by Sisco. This paper is an enclosure to airgram A–89 to USUN, which authorized using the paper in corridor conversations with colleagues but not submitted to the Secretary-General.
  2. Not identified.