The 30th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has come and gone, and its observance mostly served to underline once more America's continuing hypocrisy and self-righteousness in respect to that unique document.
A few days ago, in ceremonies commemorating the historic declaration that was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 President Carter said, "Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy . . . " Were it only so.
It is true that the United States, to its credit, was one of the earliest and strongest advocates of the declaration, but our enthusiasm quickly waned when covenants, necessary to implement the declaration, were offered at the United Nations, and the Congress shocked the free world by rejecting some of the most vital ones, especially the notable one outlawing genocide.
The genocide convention, Carter rightly said, "was the world's affirmation that the lessons of the Holocaust would never be forgotten." And he pointedly added. "Eighty-three other nations have ratified the convention. The United States, despite the support of every president since 1948, has not. In international meetings at the United Nations and elsewhere, we are often asked why. We do not have an acceptable answer."
Carter has emphasized human rights more than most of our postwar presidents, but, domestically, it's still not enough. Last year, Carter signed the genocide convention, along with other human-rights instruments, but they remain unratified. Congress finds it easier to pass resolutions condemning human-rights derelictions in other countries.
Carter, himself, is well aware of our own shortcomings. "For most of the first half of or history," he notes, "black Americans were denied even the most basic human rights. For most of the first two-thirds, women were excluded from the political process . . . And the struggle for full human rights for all Americans - black, brown and white, male and female, rich and poor, is far from over."
Fouad Ajami, in a paper for the Institute for World Order, also has this to say: "How a 'late comer' to the field of human rights can preempt the issue as its own is a question that the Carter administration has yet to confront. It would be too much to expect the rest of the world to welcome the latest convert to the faith as the new archbishop without voicing some strong objections and a large measure of skepticism."
The American passion to improve the rest of the world goes back long before Carter. Another president, Woodrow Wilson, led the United States into World War I in order to "make the world safe for democracy." His prescription was the League of Nations.
While most of the world welcomed the Wilsonian concept, it became embroiled in U.S. partisan politics and was ultimately rejected by the Senate, despite warnings that a return to American isolationism might well lead to a second world war.
At the conclusion of World War I, the United States, as one of the principal founders of the United Nations, led the way in proposing and creating the International Court of Justice (better known as the World Court). The drafters of the U.N. Charter envisioned the court as the active legal arm of the world organization, providing an alternative to war.
No one can now say what it might have accomplished by this time had it been allowed to function and develop as the framers hoped, but it was virtually emasculated when the U.S. Senate adopted the now famous (or infamous) Connally amendment, which short-circuited U.S. acceptance of the court's jurisdiction.
Just as every U.S. president for the last 30 years has favored the genocide convention, all have equally opposed the Connally amendment, but to no avail. In fact, the U.S. government has not filed a case with the World Court since 1959.
Repeal of the Connally amendment would not, of course, relieve all the world's tensions. In the view of Frederic Kirgis Jr., University of Colorado law scholar, it might, however, revitalize "the court's participation in the painful process of constructing a framework for world order, and by so doing strengthen the entire United Nations system. "That, alone, should be reason enough for repeal."
If, as Carter said several days ago, "no force on earth can separate" him from his "commitment to enhance human rights," the best way for him to impress the rest of the world of his sincerity and determination is to dedicate the coming year not only to pushing ratification of the genocide convention, but fighting for repeal of the Connally amendment.
Such success, along with a new SALT agreement, would be a splendid tribute to any president, but particularly to one who has just said: "The Universal Declaration-and the human-rights conventions that derive from it-are a beacon, a guide to the future of personal security, political freedom and social justice."