255. Action Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs (Buffum) to Secretary of State Kissinger1 2

Resolution on Political Prisoners to be Proposed by Our GA Delegation

The Problem

Ambassador Moynihan recommends that USUN be authorized to sponsor a draft resolution, worked out by him with Congressman Fraser, appealing for an unconditional amnesty of all political prisoners.


We have proposed, and received Ambassador Moynihan’s agreement to, two changes in his original draft:

Mention of the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference will be omitted because of the very sensitive political content of the proposed resolution and because of our desire not to use the Helsinki Declaration as an instrument of public embarrassment of any of the signatories, and
The appeal is more carefully focused on amnesty for a class of prisoners which would be more clearly identifiable as political. The resolution now calls for amnesty of individuals who have lost their liberty as a result of their peaceful expression of variant views. (The text as transmitted by our delegation contained language for an appeal which was so broad as to apply even to prisoners held because of acts of terrorism.)

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Pros and Cons

The question is whether introducing even this revised text (Tab 2) would be in the overall U.S. interest. The geographic bureaus have expressed the opinion that our sponsorship of such a text would raise no significant political problems with respect to our relations with any of the countries within their geographic regions. But the bureaus pointed out, on the other hand, that the resolution could make targets out of countries in which we have major interests.

As concerns the US-USSR relations, while the Soviets would not be happy at our pushing such an effort in the GA because of the discussion of their practices and potential interference in their internal affairs which might ensue, passage of the draft resolution would probably not have any serious negative impact on our bilateral relations. In any event Moscow does not hesitate to push resolutions that might be awkward for us. As concerns other countries with which we maintain friendly relations and which have human rights problems, namely, Spain, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, and Chile, it is the opinion of the bureaus concerned that our sponsorship of the resolution would not put any significant strain on our relations with these countries. At least Israel, Chile, Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia would quite likely be negatively affected by the follow-up measures for which our resolution provides.


We see the following advantages to pushing such a resolution:

  • —It would demonstrate Departmental responsiveness to Congressional human rights concerns, although it is not likely to forestall passage of mandatory language in Section 502B this year.
  • —The United States image as a government concerned to promote human rights would be enhanced domestically and abroad.
  • —The large number of political prisoners in the world would receive encouragement through knowledge that the United Nations is seeking to alleviate their plight.
  • —The approach embodied in the draft resolution is worldwide, with no specific countries targeted. Such an approach contrasts favorably with the one-sided attention which the United Nations now gives to only a few human rights cases, such as Chile, Israel and South Africa. Thus we would expose the selective morality so prevalent in New York through this jujitsu technique.


United States sponsorship of the draft resolution would have the following disadvantages:

  • —The United States will be called upon to take difficult positions with respect to the conditions in friendly countries such as Israel’s occupied areas, Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, if the follow-up measures called for in this resolution are pursued vigorously in the United Nations.
  • —On the other hand the political voting majorities in the United Nations are such that many of the worst offenders like the USSR and other socialist states and some of the Africans will escape UN identification and/or condemnation.
  • —If no affirmative effective actions are taken as a result of this resolution, or if only some offenders are pursued while other notorious offenders are untouched, this will dramatize the hypocrisy or impotence of UN human rights measures.
  • —There are risks that the resolution could be amended with such unacceptable provisions (e.g., Anti-Israeli measures) that we would not be able to vote for it.
  • —A United States commitment to this initiative could invite more Congressional demands that we actively investigate friendly countries through the United Nations. This could be true also of those elements in the United States who demand more vigorous measures by the United States Government in exposing Soviet human rights abuses.
  • —The Soviets would not be happy with our taking such an initiative.


On balance, despite the purposely, sharply drawn disadvantages, we recommend that you sign the attached telegram (Tab 1) authorizing our delegation to go forward with the initiative on political prisoners.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, L/OA Files, Lot 99 D 369, Human Rights, General, 1975. Confidential. Drafted by Hewitt; and cleared in S/P, C, D/HA, AF, ARA, EA, EUR, NEA, and L. Attached but not published at Tab 1 is telegram 262669 to USUN, November 5, which forwarded the draft resolution on amnesty for political prisoners. Attached but not published at Tab 2 is an undated copy of the same draft resolution.
  2. Buffum recommended responding positively to a request by Ambassador Moynihan to sponsor a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly concerning amnesty for political prisoners.