President Carter sought yesterday to refocus public attention on his support for human rights measures, telling more than 200 people at the White House that "human rights is the soul of our foreign policy."
"As long as I am president, the government of the United States will continue throughout the world to enhance human rights," Carter told a gathering of civil rights and religious leaders, human rights activists and members of Congress. "No force on earth can separate us from that commitment."
The ceremony marked the 30th anniversary of the passage of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The White House used the occassion to spotlight Carter's human rights policies, a subject that has received relatively little public attention in recent weeks.
Administration officials aggressively promoted the importance of the speech, which has preceded by a one-hour briefing for the invited guests by Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance; the assistance secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, Patricia Derian; national security affairs adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and presidential assistant Anne Wexler.
One administration official said later that this kind of attention was given to the ceremony, in part, to correct any "public perception" that human rights measures have declined in their importance to the White House and the State Department.
Speaking in the East Room of the White House, the president called on Congress next year to ratity the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide-one of several such international declarations never ratified by the United States.
He said American officials are frequently asked why the United States has not ratified the Genocide convention and that "we do not have an acceptable answer."
Carter also pledged that the United States "will do its utmost" to aid refugees from Indochina and Lebanon. Earlier, Derian told the group that the administration plans to increase the number of refugees it admits to the country from 25,000 to 54,000 a year.
But the main thrust of the President's speech was a reaffirmation of his commitment to human rights measures, coupled with a suggestion that the administration will back up these policies in its foreign assistance programs.
"Our human rights policy is not a decoration," Carter said. "it is not something we have adopted to polish up our image abroad, or to puta a fresh coat of moral paint on the discredited policies of the past.
"Toward regimes which persist in wholesale violations of human rights," he continued, "we will not hesitate to convey our outrage-nor will we pretend that our relations are unaffected."
Unlike some of his earlier criticisms of the Soviet Union for human rights violations, the president yesterday was careful to include the Soviets as only one of seven countries he charged are guilty of repression. The others were Cambodia, Chile, Uganda, South Africa, Nicaragua and Ethiopia.
He also made a veiled reference to the Rev. Jim Jones and the mass suicide-murder in Guyana, attacking violence comes from governments, from terrorists, from criminals of from self-appointed messiahs operating under the cover of politics or religion."
Carter's speech was well received by the obviously sympathetic audience, although before he spoke the White House ceremony was criticized by one of the participants, Vernon Bellecourt of the National Council of the American Indian Movement.
Bellecourt said it was "despicable" to be discussing human rights at the White House when those rights were being violated in Nicaragua and Iran and had been denied to American Indians.