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REVIEW OF THE 35TH SESSION OF THE UNITED
NATIONS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
MONDAY, APRIL 9, 1979
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met at 1:05 p.m., in room 2255, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Don Bonker (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. BONKER. The Subcommittee on International Organizations will come to order. This is the first in a series of annual hearings that we will be conducting to review the work on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, as this subcommittee is charged with the responsibility of implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The hearing today has a dual purpose: To review the work of the 35th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which recently met in Geneva, and to assess the role played by the U.S. delegation to the Commission during its annual session.
We will probably also get into some of the issues and actions of the last session and what has followed since recommendations were made by the Commission at the 34th session. Also, we will be looking into the President's report on reform and restructuring of the U.N. system, which includes several proposals to improve the effectiveness of international human rights machinery.
We are honored to have with us today, as our leadoff witness, a colleague and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who has maintained an active interest in human rights policies. On several occasions he has attended the sessions as congressional representative to the Human Rights Conference and the Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva. I was supposed to be on that trip to Geneva but unfortunately had to cancel, so I am pleased that one of our colleagues managed to attend the session. We are so pleased, John, that you are here today and can share with us some of your perceptions, thoughts, and recommendations, not only about the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, but U.S. participation in the sessions.
STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN H. BUCHANAN, JR., A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ALABAMA
Mr. BUCHANAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me begin by expressing my own appreciation to you for holding these hearings and
for your leadership generally in the area of human rights. The United States is a world leader in the quest for human rights and as such ought to be a leader in such international forums as the Human Rights Commission. But just as there are ways in which we in this country can improve our human rights performance here at home, so are there ways in which we can improve our performance and thereby the performance of the Human Rights Commission abroad.
Mr. BONKER. Perhaps we should adjourn momentarily and vote. The subcommittee stands in recess for 10 minutes.
[Whereupon a brief recess was taken.]
Mr. BONKER. The subcommittee will come to order. I would just mention for the record that the Foreign Affairs Committee is on the floor taking up the economic assistance bill which is one reason why we do not have more representation at the hearing this afternoon. Since Congressman Buchanan and I had an opportunity to discuss all aspects of this issue on the way over to vote, I do not know whether there is anything left for him to contribute. But, for purposes of the record, I would invite Congressman Buchanan to continue.
I would hope that you would read your statement so that we have it fully intact in the record and then proceed to questions.
Mr. BUCHANAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As you know, for the last 2 years, it has been my privilege to be a part of the U.S. Delegation to the Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva. I say a privilege, however, with somewhat mixed emotions. It was, and certainly is always, a privilege for me to represent our great country in any capacity. It was a privilege to be associated with some very fine Americans representing the United States in Geneva. However, I did not feel quite so privileged when our delegation had to take positions which, in my judgment, were contrary to commonsense or which brought into question our own commitment to human rights.
Unfortunately, such actions have seemed to be the case too often in my experience both with the Human Rights Commission and with the United Nations system generally.
I am not a naive apologist for the U.N. system. Having served as a member of our Delegation to the 28th General Assembly and the Sixth Special Session and as an adviser to the 29th and 30th General Assemblies, I am fully aware of the weakness and shortcomings of that organization. Likewise, I am aware of its strengths and that it can and does act to the benefit of humankind.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission has the potential for contributing substantially to the protection of human rights throughout the world. Regrettably, this potential has not been realized for a number of reasons, some of them endemic to the institution itself.
One of the greatest problems is, of course, the composition of the Commission, which includes such egregious human rights violators as Bulgaria, Burundi, Iraq, the U.S.S.R., and Uganda.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain strong resolutions against many of these countries, particularly when the Commission attempts to adopt resolutions by consensus, whenever possible.
I would hasten to add, however, that this attempt for a consensus sometimes works to the benefit of the United States in that other na
tions do attempt to word resolutions to more closely reflect U.S. positions in an effort to obtain our support or even cosponsorship.
However, because of this consensus philosophy, it is virtually impossible to take action against the Soviet Union, given the membership on the Commission of that nation and its client states of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Cuba, Poland, and Syria.
Thus, what we have seen develop is a double standard in which every commission takes action against the nations of Israel, South Africa, and Chile, the unholy trinities, while tending to turn a deaf ear to the cries of those persecuted in other nations.
During the last two sessions, there has been some slight movement away from this singling out of three nations as the only violators in the world. Through the secret 1503 procedure, the Commission has expanded the scope of its investigations and actions, but only slightly.
These actions are, by no means, as strong or as decisive as many of us in the United States would like, but at least they do reflect some movement.
Our delegations have continued to work for reform within the Human Rights Commission over the years, but have met with limited success. I am afraid that some of the failures to achieve our goals must rest with the tactics and policies of the United States within the Commission.
One of the major problems plaguing the U.S. delegation this year and last is one which we faced during my tenure in the General Assembly and that is the lack of coordination between Washington and our delegation in Geneva.
Too often, we find ourselves in Geneva taking isolated positions and casting votes which are harmful to our position there. In many instances, these are in response to orders from Washington which override the judgments of the delegation in Geneva. Too often, votes are cast on precedents established 20 years ago and which may no longer be valid.
Too often, it would appear that, while the major decisions may be made at the highest levels, on more routine matters decisions are made by low level State Department personnel in Washington who are insufficiently knowledgeable of the ever-changing scenario in Geneva or the total ramifications of their decisions.
There is no question that actions taken in Geneva must be in concert with the policies of Washington. The Human Rights Commission does not act in a vacuum and we cannot speak with one voice in Geneva and another in New York, particularly when we are addressing many of the same people.
At the same time, it is for this reason that our actions in Geneva must not be considered totally within the context of the Human Rights Commission. Our constantly negative approaches in that forum can redound to our detriment in the General Assembly, the Security Council, or other international bodies.
An example which comes readily to mind involves a resolution before the Commission commending Iran for halting its oil supplies to South Africa. The original draft was one which we felt was intemperate and, therefore, opposed. However, the final version was a resolution on which members of the delegation, including State Department personnel felt our Government, if it could not vote for it, could at least abstain.
Instead, we voted “no”—the only country in the entire commission, including our Western allies, to vote “no” on a resolution dealing with a major human rights violator, South Africa, at a time when we were trying to improve relations with Iran. All our allies in the West either voted "aye” or abstained. I have yet to ascertain exactly what this "no" vote achieved for our country,
For my own part, I was scheduled to give a statement concerning human rights violations in Uganda. However, the atmosphere of the United States again voting against condemnation of South Africa was not conducive to the United States condemning Uganda.
Many of the nonalined countries couldn't care less what kind of resolution we table or adopt with regard to the Soviet Union or its supporters, but they are concerned about resolutions which specifically affect their portion of the world. When we cast vote after vote in a manner which they see as going against their own interests, they are less than encouraged to support our initiatives in areas which may be of less concern to them.
This is not to suggest that we ought to forsake our principles or overlook blatant human rights violations. At the same time, we do not have to go out of our way to take a negative position when it accomplishes nothing and could, in fact, hurt our position. Because of these actions, we are sometimes accused of exhibiting the same type of double standard of which the Commission itself is guilty.
It would appear that more positive approaches, where we can take them, can result in greater support for our initiatives down the road.
Mr. Chairman, if we could just abstain sometimes, the way the other Western nations do, it would be a vast improvement. We ought not to isolate ourselves unnecessarily on minor issues to take a negative stand against the rest of the whole, wide world with the possible exception of South Africa.
Another issue which continues to arise and which also plagues the effectiveness of our delegation is the nitpicking on spending issues.
The United States, and rightly so, has played a major role in budget reform within the U.N. system to insure that its spending is undertaken in the most efficient and effective manner. However, at times, it appears that we are nickel and diming the world to death over issues of no economic substance.
It is just not rational to dwell on minor issues on the one hand while our delegation continues to push, for example, for the creation of a high commissioner of human rights who will, of course, be an added expense.
A final area of concern is the composition of our delegation itself. While we are the world's most persistent advocate of human rights, we also have a delegation which has the appearance of being less highranking than others. Most delegations, for example, are headed by an individual of ambassadorial rank. The United States is not.
I think the head of our delegation should hold ambassadorial rank.
An issue related to that of our isolated voting is that of the U.S. relationship with other Western delegations. I think it will be difficult to find anyone among the Western delegations who would rate the recently concluded Human Rights Commission meeting as a success for the West.
One of the primary reasons for this outcome was a lack of coordination and a failure of the Western delegations to work more closely together. As has often been the case where there is disharmony among the Western bloc, the Soviet Union bloc tends to exploit such situations. This certainly appears to have been the case in Geneva this year.
Thus it was that the United States found itself alone too often, casting votes contrary to rather than in concert with our Western allies. It is certainly not my intent that we become subservient to the wishes of other nations. On the contrary, the United States is a leader in the quest for human rights and ought to be among the Western delegations. This leadership, however, necessitates a closer working relationship than has been the case in recent years.
It would be helpful to those in Washington making decisions on votes, in my judgment, if they were aware that their decision would contribute to the unnecessary isolation of our delegation and could, in fact, hamper the attainment of our goals.
It seems appropriate, therefore, Mr. Chairman, that because our Government is the principal advocate for human rights, that the head of our delegation ought to hold ambassadorial rank. This would give increased stature to our delegation and would serve again to emphasize the commitment of this Nation to human rights and individual liberties.
I commend the Department of State for its wisdom in including Members of Congress and of the private sector as a part of our delegation. I think this contributes to the understanding of the true widespread commitment of our Nation to a strong human policy.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to apologize if my testimony appears very negative. It does, however, reflect my very deep concern that we are not fully responding to the opportunities which are available to this country to make advances toward the protection of human rights in the world.
I would note here that these are not new concerns. Quite the contrary. In the report to the Congress following my term as a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. in 1973, I raised many of these same issues. Regrettably, there has been little, if any, progress toward correcting what appears to me to be problems which can be resolved with a minimum of effort.
We are the greatest and freest country in the history of the world and we have the potential for leadership. By eliminating what appears to be a pattern of actions contrary to our long-term interests, we can, in my judgment, realize that potential and give the type of leadership which I believe other nations expect of us.
Mr. BONKER. I want to thank my colleague, Representative Buchanan, for an excellent statement. Unlike many of the comments we see from both the administration as well as our own colleagues, they tend to gloss over this situation rather than look at some of the acute problems. I note in your statement that, rather than look at some of the particular committees involved here, your major concern is with the process, with the institutional problems which we have and in the representation and consistency of State Department policy; delegate voting and activity; the composition of the Commission itself; the