27. Memorandum From Jessica Tuchman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • NYT Editorial on UN Covenants

“But he also added the United Nations’ Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on Civil and Political Rights—documents that the United States has refused to sign because their provisions seemed to justify denials of rights that Americans deem important. Mr. Carter in fact reversed the policies of a decade without a word of explanation.”2

The statement is invalid in several respects:

One article in each of the Covenants implies a potential restriction of free speech. Just as in every other treaty, these would be dealt with by the appropriate reservation. The specific language of both Articles and the proposed (by State legal office and Justice) reservations are supplied in the attached memorandum.3 In fact, both Covenants require substantially fewer reservations than, for example, the Treaty on Racial Discrimination, which the Editorial accepts without comment. Virtually every international treaty requires some reservations to make it consonant with the American Constitution and with our laws—there is nothing in any way different here.

Regarding the assertion that this is a change in “the policies of a decade”, the State Department is unaware of any previous statement by an Administration stating or implying that these Covenants are unacceptable. The policy has simply been one of inaction.

All in all, the editorial is a cheap—and ill-informed—shot.

You might also be interested in the summary judgment of State’s legal office after fully studying these treaties:

[Page 73]

“The Carter Administration has every reason to approach the problem of U.S. adherence to the principal U.N. human rights conventions enthusiastically. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination are in the finest traditions of Western liberal thought and action. Their reflection of U.S. Constitutional doctrines is clear. One can fairly say that these two treaties, taken as a whole, represent a triumph of the Western ethics and legal concepts, which we should be profoundly pleased that the world community has embraced (if not in deeds, then at any rate in words). The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is also in the progressive, democratic mainstream.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Mathews Subject File, Box 11, Human Rights: Treaties: 3/77–10/78. No classification marking.
  2. The excerpt is from an editorial entitled “Rhetoric and Reality,” The New York Times, March 20, 1977, p. 170. The editorial is a commentary on the President’s March 17 address to the United Nations; see Document 26.
  3. Attached but not printed are two undated memoranda containing the proposed reservations to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning free speech.