8. Telegram From the Department of State to Multiple Diplomatic Posts1

24394. Subject: United Nations Human Rights Commission Meet-ing—Geneva, February 7–March 11, 1977. Ref: State 137142 (Notal).

1. Action posts are accredited to governments of states members of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which will meet in regular annual session in Geneva February 7–March 11, 1977. The U.S. Government attaches importance to our participation in this Commission. President Carter has stressed the high priority which his administration will attach to the promotion of human rights. Prior to the Commission’s opening, Dept considers it would be useful if appropriate officials in host governments were apprised of the elements of the overall approach to international human rights matters which the Carter administration intends to follow. In discussion with appropriate host government officials, posts should be guided by paras 2–6.

2. In presenting the following outline of the emphasis and directions to be followed by the Carter administration in the field of promoting international human rights, posts should stress our desire that the renewed impetus which we hope to bring to human rights programs through the United Nations will be a collaborative effort carried out in close consultation with other governments. We will be fully receptive to new ideas which these governments may propose. We hope to work closely with them in the appropriate UN organs to maximize the opportunities which we feel are present in these bodies to strengthen respect for human rights in the world.

3. Throughout his campaign President Carter placed priority among his concerns that of human rights, not only for the American people but for the peoples of the world. A human rights theme flowed through the President’s inaugural address, as exemplified by his statement that “The world itself is now dominated by a new spirit. Peoples [Page 24] more numerous and more politically aware are craving and now demanding their place in the sun—not just for the benefit of their own physical condition, but for basic human rights.”3

4. At his news conference held on January 31,4 Secretary Vance discussed the issue of human rights as follows:

Qte. On the issue of human rights, the President has often expressed his deep concern in this area, and has reaffirmed that deep concern in the inauguration address.

“We will speak frankly about injustice, both at home and abroad. We do not intend, however, to be strident or polemical, but we do believe that an abiding respect for human rights is a human value of fundamental importance, and that it must be nourished. We will not comment on each and every issue, but we will from time to time comment, when we see a threat to human rights, when we believe it is constructive to do so. Unqte.

5. Reflecting the high priority which has been assigned to human rights, we will be developing new policies and seeking new opportunities for the promotion of human rights in the world through the UN Human Rights Commission and other UN organs dealing with human rights questions, such as ECOSOC and the General Assembly. Our policies will be based upon the principle of equal rights for all peoples everywhere. We must avoid selective application of this principle in the United Nations.

6. We are conscious of the Charter commitment of all United Nations members to promote respect for basic human rights. While we recognize the virtues of diversity and do not expect uniform acceptance of our own standards, we cannot in any case ignore such basic transgressions of internationally recognized human rights as genocide, apartheid, torture, jailing of people for their beliefs, denials of fair treatment to minorities and denials of the right to emigrate and the right to worship, or denial of many other basic rights and freedoms. Basic civil and political human rights reinforce and promote basic economic rights and needs of peoples, and vice versa. Consequently, we will also seek to provide leadership in the pursuit of measures to alleviate suffering and deprivation due to lack of food and economic opportunity, to environmental abuses and to deficient health care. And finally, we will firmly and vigorously advocate the concept of majority rule in places such as Southern Africa where that concept is not yet realized.

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7. For Damascus: You may wish to tailor the presentation to reflect recent developments in Syria.

8. For Bonn, London, Ottawa, Rome, Stockholm and Vienna: Supplementing discussion points as presented in reftel, posts should in addition to paras 2–6 above include the following in their presentation. In his inaugural address President Carter stressed the interrelationship of national and international freedom and respect for international human rights as follows: Qte. Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the faith [fate] of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clearcut preference for those societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights. We do not seek to intimidate, but it is clear that a world which others can dominate with impunity would be inhospitable to decency and a threat to the well-being of all people. Unqte. In the coming months we will be seeking to develop with those governments that share our human rights traditions programs which we hope will make more effective international efforts through the United Nations to cope with those situations of serious human rights abuses. There is an impression of a vacuum in leadership in this field in the United Nations. We stress the urgency of our belief that the vacuum needs to be filled by our countries working together. Unless we do act with increased vigor and determination forces which deny the basic values which we share will fill that vacuum.

9. For Bonn and Rome: While we assume that UK presidency passed on to other EC–9 members points and views covered in reftel, suggest that in discussion of this message with host government officials posts also cover reftel issues (as supplemented by USUN 1525 and Geneva 412,6 repeated to you).7

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  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770039–0463. Confidential; Priority. Drafted by Hewitt; cleared by Baker, Pascoe, Wilson, Whiting, Holly, Lake, Runyon, Bray, and Sebastian; approved by Habib. Sent priority to Bonn, London, Ottawa, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna, San Jose, Nicosia, Quito, Cairo, New Delhi, Tehran, Amman, Maseru, Lagos, Islamabad, Kigali, Dakar, Ankara, Ouagadougou, Tripoli, Damascus, Lima, and Belgrade. Sent for information priority to Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Luxembourg, Paris, The Hague, the Mission to the EC, the Mission in Geneva, and USUN. Lowenstein served as head of the U.S. delegation to the HRC meeting.
  2. Telegram 13714 to multiple diplomatic and consular posts, January 20, emphasized the desirability of communicating U.S. policy regarding human rights to the EC–9 political directors, who were scheduled to meet in London January 25–26. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770022–0119)
  3. The President’s inaugural address is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 1–4. An excerpt of the President’s inaugural address is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy.
  4. For a transcript, see Department of State Bulletin, February 21, 1977, pp. 137–146.
  5. Telegram 152 from USUN, January 19, indicated that the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) of the Human Rights Commission had met in order to discuss strategy for the upcoming HRC session and had reviewed the provisional agenda. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770021–0174)
  6. Telegram 412 from Geneva, January 21, reported on a U.S.-hosted luncheon of the WEOG and described possible agenda items and approaches related to the upcoming HRC meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770023–0319)
  7. In telegram 2217 from Bonn, February 4, the Embassy reported that the West German Government looked forward to “closer consultation” with the United States regarding international human rights matters. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770041–0087)