335. Letter From the Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (Abram) to President Johnson1

My Dear Mr. President:

I am herewith respectfully tendering my resignation, effective immediately, as United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.2 In so doing, I want to declare my heartfelt appreciation for the strong support you gave to the work of our delegation. I also would like to express my great respect for your deep commitment to the purposes of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights—the illumination and expansion of individual dignity, political freedom, and economic well-being.

I have enclosed a memorandum3 recording the accomplishments of your administration in the area of international human rights and some of my thoughts on the future.

Your administration’s policies have been laudably exemplified by an attempt at a more even-handed treatment of the problems of human rights. Under your leadership, we have taken the first steps in seeking from such issues not short-term political advantages but the establishment and, perhaps, the implementation of just principles which in the long-run will serve not our nation alone, but all mankind.

Your administration has actively supported the proposal of a High Commissioner for Human Rights who could investigate and negotiate human rights controversies and, when necessary, turn the powerful searchlight of world attention on gross violations. Its delegates helped draft the Teheran Proclamation which committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that had not signed it in 1948— [Page 588] including the Soviet Union and the many new nations. Our Government has supported extension of the human rights concept to include provision for legal counsel and the right of the parents to decide the number and spacing of their children.

You have given leadership to the fight against anti-Semitism in certain Communist countries, authorizing our delegates to speak openly and frankly about this age-old evil. Your administration and my tenure have seen real progress in the drafting and adoption by the United Nations of the Declaration and International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, and the drafting of a Declaration and Convention on Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief, which, I hope, will eventually emerge in satisfactory form. You have vigorously used the initiative of your office to push for the ratification of certain human rights conventions, although both you and I have been dissatisfied by the response these efforts have received. Finally, your enthusiastic involvement in the activities of the International Year for Human Rights has been crucial in focusing public attention upon it.

If one single thing must characterize my experience on the Human Rights Commission, it is this: for the first time in the history of the Commission, the men and women who speak for America no longer needed to apologize for or equivocate about our national policy in matters of race.4 You and your administration—by your firm words, by your legislative program, and by your administrative actions—have made clear to the world the determination of the Government of the United States to end once and for all time the terrible burden of institutionalized or sanctioned racial discrimination.

With these thoughts indelibly in mind, I want again to thank you for allowing me the honor and satisfaction of serving our country in these challenging times.


Morris B. Abram
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, IT–47. A handwritten note on the last page of the letter reads: “I do hope we shall have the great honor of having you at Brandeis in the future.”
  2. Abram served as U.S. representative from 1965 to 1968.
  3. Not printed. In his memorandum Abram emphasized the continuity between the foreign and domestic policies of the Johnson administration. For example, he noted that Americans and other Westerners understood rights such as freedom of speech or the press that protected citizens from the state, but had difficulty accepting as basic rights other principles which flowed from the labor or socialist movements: “Americans have been unaccustomed to and have seriously questioned the notion that individuals also have a basic right to a job, to leisure, education, medical care, housing and social security. The Johnson Administration, through its ‘War on Poverty’ has taken strong economic and social steps to encourage wider public acceptance of this idea and to implement these rights. Nevertheless, some Americans still do not understand that the Universal Declaration’s economic and social rights, like our own Constitution’s political safeguards, are not luxuries, but necessities for a free and viable society.”
  4. “One of the most significant arenas of human rights progress has been the American domestic scene,” Abram wrote in his attached memorandum. “For the first time in the history of the Commission on Human Rights, we have not had to apologize for or equivocate about our national policy in matters of race.” Abram also included a caveat: “Unless we succeed in solving our own racial and other human rights problems, we may find we are forfeiting our position of leadership and the respect of those many new States to whom questions of racism and exploitation are paramount.”