28. Telegram From the Department of State to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts1

64799. Inform Consuls. Subject: USG emphasis on human rights. Refs: (A) Warsaw 1521;2 (B) USNATO 1226;3 (C) State 49664.4

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1. You will have seen statements by President Carter and Secretary Vance5 making clear that a firm commitment to the promotion of human rights is an integral part of US foreign policy. Posts have also received texts of Deputy Secretary Christopher’s March 7 testimony on human rights.6 You should, of course, draw on them in discussions of this issue.

2. The Soviet Union and some other countries have attacked our recent expressions of concern over human rights violations as interference in their internal affairs. Soviet reasoning has no basis in international law—emphatically do have the right to make these statements. Posts may, as appropriate, draw on following to counter claims that USG statements on human rights constitute interference or intervention in internal affairs in other countries:

—As President Carter said in his March 17 speech to the UN,7 “All the signatories of the UN Charter have pledged themselves to observe and respect basic human rights. Thus, no member of the United Nations can claim that mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business. Equally, no member can avoid its responsibilities to review and to speak when torture or unwarranted deprivation of freedom occurs in any part of the world.”

—The UN Charter legally obligates UN members as well as the organization itself to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (Articles 55 and 56).

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—Other important treaties in the area of human rights include the Genocide Convention, the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic and Social Rights. The USSR is party to all of these treaties. President Carter has pledged to seek prompt Senate consent to these treaties in order that the US also will become a party to them.

—The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, while not a treaty, is an authoritative statement of the human rights which the Charter is meant to promote.

—The Final Act of the Conference on European Security and Cooperation8 provides “In the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the participating states will act in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and with the Universal Declaration as set forth in the international declarations and agreements in this field, including inter alia the International Covenants of Human Rights, by which they may be bound.”

—When a state’s practice is inconsistent with its international human rights obligations set forth in the above treaties, it may not, of course, legitimately complain that the practice is an internal affair on which others may not comment. (Addressees should also be aware that it has been the long-standing USG position that statements by one government about the affairs of another, even in the absence of treaty obligations, do not constitute unlawful intervention under international law.)

3. You should also point out as appropriate that the USG monitors, evaluates and criticizes when necessary our own human rights performance. The US Commission on Civil Rights, an independent agency of the USG, is charged with the responsibility to encourage constructive steps toward equal opportunity for minority groups and women. It investigates complaints, holds public hearings, and collects and studies information on denials of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Voting rights, administration of justice, and equality of opportunity in education, employment and housing are among the many topics of specific Commission interest. Recent studies by the Commission cover the following areas of civil rights:

—Education: desegregation in schools; equal educational opportunities for minorities; problems particular to minorities including isolation, performance, language barriers.

—Employment: unemployment and layoffs; equal opportunities for employment; affirmative action programs.

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—Discrimination: problems of the aged; sex and racial discrimination in employment.

—Housing: urban problems and ghettos; housing for low income families; racial discrimination.

—Minority cultures: unemployment and equal opportunity; problems particular to each minority culture in the United States; education and language; political participation.

4. The Commission makes findings of fact but has no enforcement authority. Findings and recommendations are submitted both to the President and the Congress, and more than 60 percent of the Commission’s recommendations have been enacted, either by statute, executive order, or regulation. The Commission evaluates Federal laws and the effectiveness of government equal opportunity programs. It also serves as a national clearinghouse for civil rights information.

5. Other official USG bodies which continually examine and attempt to improve US human rights performance include courts, congressional committees, the civil rights division of the Justice Department, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Secretary: Records of Warren Christopher, 1977–1980, Lot 81D113, Box 16, Human Rights—Early Efforts. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Pascoe, Hansell, and Schwebel; cleared by Derian, Baker, Sebastian, Holmes, Aldrich, McNutt, Lister, Shurtleff, and Harrington; approved by Christopher. Schwebel and Derian had sent Christopher a draft of the telegram under a March 17 action memorandum, requesting that he approve it; Ortiz noted on the memorandum that the cable was sent on March 23. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770047–1967 and P770047–1969) Another draft of the telegram is in the National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Secretary: Records of Warren Christopher, 1977–1980, Lot 81D113, Box 17, Human Rights—Legal Aspects.
  2. In telegram 1521 from Warsaw, March 3, Davies requested that the Department provide a “series of high level statements” regarding the linkage between the expression of human rights concerns and “interference in the internal affairs” of states and the legitimacy of human rights as a subject of international law and international discourse. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770073–0911)
  3. In telegram 1226 from the U.S. Mission to NATO, March 7, Strausz-Hupe expressed his agreement with the sentiments transmitted in telegram 1521 from Warsaw (see footnote 2), underscored that the Helsinki Final Act placed human rights on the international agenda, and added: “I nevertheless believe that to set the record straight on the legal aspects of the human rights question would have a salutary effect on thinking in Western capitals.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])
  4. The Department transmitted an advance copy of Christopher’s remarks, which he was slated to deliver to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance on March 7, to all posts in telegram 49664, March 5. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770077–0054)
  5. Presumable reference to remarks made by Vance at his January 31 press conference; see footnote 3, Document 18. During his February 4 press conference, Vance commented: “Sometimes we will speak out in public, believing that to be the most appropriate and forceful way to make our position clear. In other cases, as I have indicated before, we will use quiet diplomacy, and it will be a mixture that will have to be determined by us on a case-by-case basis.” (Department of State Bulletin, March 28, 1977, p. 277) In response to a question asked during his February 23 press conference (see footnote 3, Document 19) regarding assistance to victims of political repression, the President noted: “So, I think that we all ought to take a position in our country and among our friends and allies, among our potential adversaries, that human rights is something on which we should bear a major responsibility for leadership. And I have made it clear to the Soviet Union and to others in the Eastern European Community that I am not trying to launch a unilateral criticism of them; that I am trying to set a standard in our own country and make my concerns expressed throughout the world, not singled out against any particular country.” (Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, February 28, 1977, p. 245)
  6. See footnote 4 above. The text of Christopher’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance is printed in Department of State Bulletin, February 21, 1977, pp. 289–291. A February 18 Policy Planning Staff draft narrative outline on human rights, which Vogelgesang prepared in advance of Christopher’s appearance, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director, Records of Anthony Lake, 1977–1981, Lot 82D298, Box 2, TL 2/16–28/77.
  7. See Document 26.
  8. The text of the Helsinki Final Act is printed in Department of State Bulletin, September 1, 1975, pp. 323–350.