323. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Proposals for a UN Commissioner on Human Rights

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Gardner, Deputy Assistant Secretary, IO
  • Mr. Burke Marshall
  • USUN—Ambassador Williams
  • USUN—Mr. Montero
  • USUN—Mr. Elmendorf
  • Dept. of Justice—Mr. Schlei, Mr. Ulman
  • Civil Rights Commission—Mr. Taylor
  • Dept. of State—L—Mr. Meeker; IO—Mr. Kotschnig; L/UNA—Mr. Schwebel; Mr. Bilder; OES—Mr. Kiefer; Miss Bell; Mrs. Nason; Mr. Widenor; H—Miss Hogan; ARA—Mr. Monsma; EUR—Capt. Freeman; FE—Miss McNutt; NEA—Mr. Lee; Mr. Morrison

Mr. Gardner invited participants to comment on the proposal, (1) in relation to the U.S. domestic situation and (2) in relation to our foreign policy.

On the domestic side, Burke Marshall and others raised the possibility that U.S. groups agitating in the race relations field would take advantage of a UN Commissioner on Human Rights to seek further publicity. Ambassador Williams pointed out that such U.S. groups are already appealing directly to foreign delegations in New York, so that the establishment of a Human Rights Commissioner in the United Nations would not create a new situation. On the contrary, a balanced and objective human rights reporting system would be helpful and was urgently needed to offset the ignorance and disbelief in New York with respect to U.S. progress in eliminating race discrimination—the U.S. was already exposed and the situation could not be worse.

Some thought the reports of a Human Rights Commissioner might naturally tend to focus on the “open” societies, such as the U.S., whose problems are a matter of public record and neglect the “closed” societies, such as the U.S.S.R., in which not even the existence of human rights problems is publicly acknowledged. In answer it was pointed out that there are many and various independent sources of information on the U.S.S.R. that the Commissioner could draw upon. Moreover, the Commissioner’s report would be studied in the Human Rights [Page 570]Commission and in the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, as well as in ECOSOC, thereby giving both experts and government representatives an opportunity to criticize and rebut it.

Throughout the discussion great emphasis was placed on drawing the terms of reference so as to definitively limit the powers of the Commissioner. Everyone agreed the Commissioner should function only as a reporter and not be allowed to become an investigator.

On the foreign policy side, questions were raised as to the U.S. position in case a Commissioner report exposed serious human rights violations or malpractice in countries, such as the GRC, ROK and RVN, which are known to be receiving major support from the U.S.

No final agreement was reached. Mr. Gardner indicated that the original memo would be revised in the light of the discussion and of proposals already in circulation at the United Nations.2

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, SOC 14. Unclassified. Drafted by Nason and Widenor.
  2. On December 13, 1965, the U.S. Representatives in Committee III of the UN General Assembly made a statement supporting the proposal to create the post of UN High Commissioner, and on December 16 the General Assembly adopted a resolution that referred the proposal to the Commission on Human Rights. See American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, p. 156. On March 30, 1966, the Commission decided to establish a working group of nine states (including the United States) to study the proposal for a High Commissioner for Human Rights and report the results to the Commission at its 23d session in 1967; see ibid., 1966, pp. 93–94. Action was postponed through 1971; an alternative resolution was adopted in 1973.