A sweeping indictment of Eastern European failures to live up to the pledges on human rights made more than two years ago at Helsinki was delivered today by chief U.S. delegate Arthur Goldberg to a conference reviewing those accords.
The American criticism came on the heels of a generally moderate, low-key Soviet speech that, nevertheless, reflected a fundamental difference with the Carter administration as to whether U.S. Soviet detente could be pursued if strong White House pressure for human rights for Communistbloc citizens continues.
Though refraining from mentioning specific countries or specific individuals who have suffered human rights violations, Goldberg condemned the practice of imprisoning or exiling persons "for making their thoughts known."
Equally difficult to understand are restrictions on the rights of individuals to travel or emigrate," he said.
The United States was also obliged, Goldberg told the 420 delegates gathered here, to express "vigorous disapproval" of repressive measures taken by any country against its own citizens or groups trying to insure that the human rights provisions of Helsinki are carried out.
U.S. delegates said this was clearly intended as a reference to Soviet harassment jailing or exiling of citizens groups set up to monitor implementation of the accords and to similar Czechoslovak repression of signers of the Charter 77 Human Rights Manifesto that urged the application of the Helsinki accords by the Prague government, an original signatory.
In sharp contrast to Goldberg, Chief Soviet delegate Yuli Vorontsov kept his speech virtually free of direct criticism. Some delegates here speculated that the Soviet stance was deliberately not provocative in order to make Goldberg stand-out as the controversial figure at the conference. Virtually all of the 35 countries here fear that a potential major collision over human rights could bring collapse of their effort to improve East-West relations.
All indications were that this first crucial point in the opening round of the conference had been passed without producing this feared confrontation.
The initial speeches were viewed as critical because they would set the tone for the meeting, which will last for three months or longer and will move behind closed doors next week, and also because they were made in public where still more specific charges could have been embarrassing.
Meeting with reporters later, Vorontsov was asked if the U.S. emphasis on human rights could produce strife here. The Soviet delegate chose to point out that Goldberg had shown the same interest in striving toward success, pointing to the many positive aspects of the American speech.
Vorontsov said he thought the U.S. speech was unbalanced with too much emphasis on human rights and not enough on disarmament and the military situation in Europe. "The Americans are entitled to speak on whatever interests "them," he said. "But we hope to convince them there are other things as important as human rights."
A U.S. spokesman described Vorontsuv's speech as "relaxed civil and businesslike and a welcome indication of an attitude we all share about what this conference is supposed to do."
In effect, Goldberg's speech is part of a delicate balancing act in which the Carter administration is trying to maintain both direct and discreet pressure on the East to liberalize human rights. At the same time it is trying to not become so outspoken that relations with the Soviets become frigid and efforts in the Middle East, on nuclear arms limitation and elsewhere remain stalled.
The President is widely viewed as clearly less flamboyant now on specific Soviet human rights issues than he was at the outset of his term when several of his actions outraged the Kremlin.
Thus, Goldberg today linked three things. He reaffirmed the "wholehearted" commitment of the United States to detente, said that a deepening of detente cannot be divorced from human rights, and concluded that "the pursuit of human rights does not put detente in jeopardy," but rather strengthens it.
The issue of human rights represents the widest gap between the ideals and practices of East and West," Goldberg said.
But though it is a sensitive subject, he added, it is "one which can be dealt with in an understanding manner."
Vorontsov, however, stressed as an "important point" that the pace of implementation of the Helsinki accords "is dependent to a great extent on the general level of detente." And, he added, some people in the West oppose detente.
"Detente implies a certain degree of confidence and the mutual capacity to take into account the legitimate interests of other states," Vorontsov said. In humanitarian fields, cooperation "is feasible only on the basis of strict respect for sovereignty and the principal of noninterference in internal affairs."
The West generally rejects such claims, arguing that the Helsinki pledges put the rithts of individuals in the domain of international concern.
A number of Western countries have lined up behind the U.S. on the human rights stance but with greatly varying degrees of vigor. The Netherlands and Sweden have taken strong positions, while the British speech today contained comments so mild that many observers were surprised.
French chief delegate Andre Bettencourt, however, delivered perhaps the most specific indictment of Soviet practices by asking,"Why is it necessary to note that individuals are mistreated and persecuted because they have taken upon themselves the task of monitoring the application" of the Helsinki accords.
This was the most specific reference thus far to the Soviet monitoring groups.
While Goldberg pleded the United States would equally review all principles and sections of the accords, his speech was dominated by human rights in contrast to many other speeches here that also dwelt heavily on the need for economic cooperation and security.
Disarmament, a major concern of many European speakers, was never mentioned in the prepared U.S. speech, although Goldberg later added a reference to the staggering weight" of armaments that are being delat with in other forums.
Goldberg called for an end to radio jamming, for far greater efforts in family reunification across East-West borders, for more adequate economic data supplied for international business, and the need to ease working and travel restrictions on journalists.
As for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Soviet Union, Vorontsov said they are "more than just proclaimed and laid down in laws, they are guaranteed by our socio-economic system itself. It is a fact that unemployment is non-existent in the Soviet Union and Soviet citizens enjoy free medical care and free education . . ."
Vorontsov refrained from any comments about racism or crime that have been used in Soviet counterattacks in the past against U.S. human rights pressures.
When the meeting goes behind closed doors next week, however, the examination is expected to get more detailed and the East bloc has been collecting data on things like the U.S. trial of the Wilmington Ten, mistreatment of American Indians, unemployment in the West generally, torture in Northern Ireland and renewed interest of Nazism in West Germany as ammunition for their defense.