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79. Editorial Note

At United Nations headquarters in New York on October 5, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both covenants had been open for signature at the United Nations since December 19, 1966, and Carter, in his March 17, 1977, address to the United Nations General Assembly, had asserted his intention to seek ratification of these and other covenants and conventions:

“To demonstrate this commitment, I will seek congressional approval and sign the U.N. covenants on economic, social, and cultural rights, and the covenants on civil and political rights. And I will work closely with our own Congress in seeking to support the ratification not only of these two instruments but the United Nations Genocide Convention and the Treaty for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as well. I have just removed all restrictions on American travel abroad, and we are moving now to liberalize almost completely travel opportunities to America.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pages 444–451)

In remarks made at the October signing ceremony, held in the Economic and Social Council Chamber at United Nations headquarters, Carter explained the significance of the administration’s actions:

“By ratifying the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a government pledges, as a matter of law, to refrain from subjecting its own people to arbitrary imprisonment or execution or to cruel or degrading treatment. It recognizes the right of every person to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the rights of peaceful assembly, and the right to emigrate from that country.

“A government entering this covenant states explicitly that there are sharp limits on its own powers over the lives of its people. But as Thomas Jefferson once wrote about the Bill of Rights, which became part of our own American Republic, and I quote again from Thomas Jefferson: ‘These are fetters against doing evil which no honest government should decline.’

“By ratifying the other Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a government commits itself to its best efforts to secure for its citizens a basic standard of material existence, social justice, and cultural opportunity.

“This covenant recognizes that governments are the instruments and the servants of their people. Both of these covenants express values in which the people of my country have believed for a long time.

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“I will seek ratification of these covenants by the Congress of the United States at the earliest possible date.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book II, pages 1734–1735)

Following the signing ceremony, the President hosted a working luncheon for officials of Asian nations. The text of the President’s remarks at the luncheon are ibid., pages 1735–1737. The President summarized the event in his diary: “I met privately with [UN Secretary-General] Kurt Waldheim [and] signed the Human Rights Covenants, then had a reception with the specialized agency heads, a very good group who do tremendous work around the world but are often not recognized as being part of the UN. They help with health, refugees, civilian air safety, atomic energy supervision, and so forth. We probably waste a lot of money and effort in our own government by not coordinating better with these standing groups, where more than 85 percent of the UN budget goes. The only part we hear about are crazy resolutions pushed through the General Assembly.” (Carter, White House Diary, page 114)