The U.S. and Soviet delegates to the U.N. Human Rights Commission exchanged sharp charges yesterday in one of the few heated exchanges of this year's five-week meeting.
Addressing the full 32-member commission, U.S. Ambassador Edward Mezvinsky attacked the Soviet refusal to include human rights issues in the final report of the current Belgrade conference on the Heisinki accords and its arrest of citizens who have monitored Soviet compliance with the Helsinki pact.
Mezvinsky also said the commission should be "deeply troubled by reports of religious persecution and anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
The Soviet delegate, Valernan Zorin, called the American's charges "baseless" and a form of "psychological war" which could lead to a return to Cold War strains.
Although he called the U.S. statement an "interference" in Soviet internal affairs, Zorin added that the United States should concern itself with the fate a black American, John Harris, who is scheduled to be executed in Alabama Friday. Harris, 34, was sentenced to death for his role in a prison uprising in which a guard was killed.
The scene was reminiscent of last year's verbal clashes at the Human Rights Commission between then U.S. delegate Allard K. Lowenstein and the Soviets over whether Soviet dissidents should be a topic for resolutions at the commission. The intensity of the charges and counter-charges was lower yesterday, reflecting in part, the lower-key tone in U.S.-Soviet exchanges over human rights.
In addition to having an easier going personal style than Lowenstein, this year's American delegate, a former congressman from Iowa, is pursuing a strategy of keeping a lower public profile in the hopes of achieving more tangible results from the commission in informal gatherings and in the commission's formally established confidential procedures.
"Before, we've been vocal and upfront and what did we get out of it? Zero," says Mezvinsky. Now, in keeping with a more general reorientation towards the United Nations, the United States has been avoiding the dramatic verbal confrontations of the past and looking instead for areas of agreement and alliance with such key nonaligned countries as India and Nigeria, which have been taking an important role in the human rights commission meeting this year.
The Americans have particularily been focusing their attention on the so-called "1503" procedures of the commission which provides for confidential reviews of investigations of nations considered guilty of consistent gross violations of human rights.
The U.S. delegation has expressed pleasure that this year, for the first time in the commission's history, action under the confidential procedures was taken on nine countries, including Uganda, Uruguay, Ethiopia and Indonesia. In the past, the commission has signled out only Chile, South Africa and Israel.
The Americans who are not considered champions of human rights within the commission, have come under private criticism fron other delegations for not devoting enough effort and expertise to a number of other items on the commission's long agenda, including the drafting of conventions covering various specific human rights.
"In the working groups the U.S.S.R. will have a top person following what's going on, but the U.S. will only be represented by an advisor," complained one observer, who noted that the younger and less experienced members of the eight-member U.S. delegation sometimes are out-manuevered.
Frequent changes at the top of the delegation also undercut the Americans' effectiveness here, according to many diplomats. While many delegates from Western countries have been attending the annual meeting for five years or more, the Americans change personnel so often that they do not build up the peronal relationships that diplomats here say are so important at the negotiating level.
There was little confusion today, however, over the thrust of Mezvinsky's plea to the commission to broaden its focus to cover more countries and deepen its awareness of the individual human suffering caused by human rights violations. With graphic detail seldom heard here, Mezvinsky described in his speech yesterday how prisoners in Latin America countries - later identified as Uruguay and Argentina - are hanged "upside down by a rope tied to their feet and then submerge(d) . . . in vats containing water, blood, vomit, and human excrement."
"Let us hear real people," he concluded, calling for open hearings, to be held by the human rights commision to hear in person from the victims of rights violations.