233. Telegram 5688 From the U.S. Mission to the UN to the Department of State1 2


  • The US Position and Human Rights in 28th GA
Summary. Although results were mixed, US emerged in somewhat more positive role as defender of human rights at 28th GA than it did last year when issues of apartheid and colonialism consumed greater amount of time and energy. To extent that debate and reses centered on apartheid, Southern Africa, Portuguese colonies and Israeli-occupied lands, US Took position which, while valid legally, was generally regarded as negative and served to isolate us from overwhelming majority. Soviet bloc, which vociferously supported such reses made effective propaganda out of our isolation. US was, however, able to support other human rights items including res on decade to combat racism. For this and other reasons unrelated to human rights issues, US was able to allay African resentment effectively enough to preclude Africans from deliberately sabotaging US initiatives in retaliation.
Non-aligned member states in Third Comite, which deals with human rights, are less concerned with civil and political rights of individuals than they are with denial of practically all rights to black majorities in Southern Africa and Portuguese colonies. African bloc is preoccupied with this issue to virtual exclusion of all others. To them Carletonville “massacre” which took place, Sept 11 on eve 28th session vastly overshadowed plight of Soviet intellectuals and restrictions on rights of Soviet Jews to emigrate. To extent African states south of Sahara are concerned with other aspects of human rights, they probably share view well expressed by Sierra Leone that in very poor countries where so many live at margin of survival, right to work and earn livelihood for oneself and family takes priority over civil and political rights. For this reason Sierra Leone concluded that regional human rights organizations reflecting priority concerns of each region would be more efficient way of assuring observance of human rights within UN context than creation of post of high commissioner for human rights.
Frustration over inability of UN effectively to combat apartheid and colonialism has led to extreme actions such as passage by 28th GA of convention on suppression and punishment of crime of apartheid. This convention extends international criminal jurisdiction on so broad and so ill-defined a scale that, as US spokesman said in explaining our negative vote in plenary, it can itself be used to violate rather than protect human rights. Yet convention was passed by typical lopsided vote 91–4(US)-26 in which we found ourselves voting no in company of South Africa, UK, and Portugal. To non-aligned, broad possibilities that convention offers for violating human rights were much less important than possibilities it offers for harassing South African Government diplomats and officials and even foreigners trading with and in South Africa. Under these circumstances US legal objections, though entirely valid, fell on deaf ears.
USSR, one of world’s most spectacular and consistent violators of civil and political rights over past half century, has skillfully exploited this situation. Soviets, in fact, fathered draft convention on crime of apartheid, shepherded it through human rights commission, and defended it in Third Comite when Sect Legal Advisor could not do so effectively. Soviet bloc speeches are sprinkled with references to “characteristic Soviet support for human rights and unyielding opposition to apartheid, colonialism and neo-colonialism.” Soviet bloc seldom misses opportunity to call UN attention to “NATO countries” that support apartheid by investing in and trading with South Africa or that give military assistance to Portugal with which to suppress African liberation movements. Moreover, Soviet del solicitously assured that Africans inserted reference to “policies of those members of NATO and other countries which assist Portugal and other racist regimes” in res on self-determination thereby assuring US and Western Europeans would be isolated from overwhelming majority (USUN 4612). As further propaganda ploy, USSR ratified the two major human rights covenants shortly before 28th GA opened and have made some capital of that, despite fact that few can believe Soviets seriously intend to implement those covenants. Extent to which African bloc looks upon Soviet bloc as true friend is difficult to judge, but Africans in general supported reses favored by Soviet bloc.
By contrast US voted with UK, Portugal, Israel, and occasional chance ally against non-aligned and Soviet bloc majority, with Western Europeans abstaining on reses relating to apartheid convention and self-determination. Under these circumstances it is perhaps remarkable that US stand was not more resented and that African bloc was not more hostile. For example, item on elimination of all forms of religious intolerance in which US took lead and in which non-aligned had little interest was given thorough hearing and referred to human rights commission for preparation of draft declaration despite Soviet opposition to declaration.
It may well be that US support for first human rights item on agenda, decade for action to combat racism and racial discrimination, ably and feelingly stated by public member Margaret Young, created sympathetic US image at outset that was only gradually blurred. At end of session US was also able to vote affirmatively on report of Comite on elimination of racial discrimination and on status of human rights covenants. In summary, despite skillful Soviet bloc utilization of US difficulties in regard to UN reses directed against Portugal and South Africa, together with our continuing inability to ratify the basic human rights covenants, del was able to present positive US position on other items dealing with human rights. Moreover, in this session Third Comite was somewhat less preoccupied than in past by Southern Africa and apartheid issues and more time was available for considering these other items, e.g., decade to combat racism, observance of 25th anniversary of Universal Declaration, elimination of religious intolerance, High Commissioner for Human Rights, human rights and technological and scientific development.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Limited Official Use. Transmitted for action to IO. Repeated to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Geneva.
  2. The telegram summarized the results of negotiations concerning human rights at the 28th UN General Assembly.