Courtesy Reuters

The U.N. and Human Rights

The Human Rights organs of the United Nations have been-to use a typically American term-great on production but poor in distribution. Since the adoption of the Charter in 1945, making the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms a purpose of the organization, the members have produced a cornucopia of papers proclaiming principles and goals which almost no state dares contradict publicly, but which few observe conscientiously, and which fewer still embrace to the point of allowing their practices to be inspected.

Twenty years after its adoption, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains a declaration universally praised but seldom taken by nations as an across-the-board program for domestic practice. Nations applaud the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to René Cassin-a drafter of the Declaration and leader of the campaign for its adoption-but much of this recognition is to compensate for the guilt felt by many who do not practice what Cassin preaches.

The year 1968-designated by the United Nations as the International Year for Human Rights-has not been a good year for U.N. activities in that area. The international conference held in Tehran last spring was heralded as a major forum for review and planning, yet, in large measure, it became an exercise in acrimony, focusing on Arab anti-Israel grievances and the problems of Southern Africa. A few weeks earlier, the Human Rights Commission had turned down the idea of examining the condition of human rights in Greece and Haiti-a proposal of its own Sub-Commission on Discrimination. And several months before that, a committee of the General Assembly had amended the text of the Commission's draft Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance, rendering it completely unacceptable to most of the religious communities of the world, as well as to a great many states.

Why have things developed this way? Why has it not been possible for the world organization to make the crucial transition from an agency engaged in defining principles of human rights

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