The Senate yesterday shelved a 35-year-old international treaty outlawing genocide after conservative Republicans threatened a filibuster. The lawmakers agreed to consider a nonbinding resolution supporting the "principles" of the treaty and declaring the Senate's intention to act "expeditiously" on the treaty in the new Congress next year.
Senate leaders said they expected the resolution to be approved easily before Congress adjourns, possibly today.
The resolution was designed to satisfy opponents and supporters of the treaty, but one supporter, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said he had "grave regrets" at the lack of Senate action on the treaty itself.
The Senate inaction on the genocide treaty comes after several other major bills, dealing with civil rights, immigration and hazardous waste cleanup, apparently have been consigned to the legislative graveyard within the last 10 days, often after being bogged down by filibusters.
Congressional leaders have suggested that the 98th Congress seems to have had extraordinary difficulty in transacting business as it moved toward adjournment. The government was shut down for a half-day, and Congress had to pass four emergency measures to fund federal agencies since the 1985 fiscal year began Oct. 1.
The genocide treaty has been signed by 82 nations but it has been held up in the Senate for more than three decades by arguments that it is poorly drafted, vague and could allow other governments or an international court of law to intervene in U.S. affairs.
The treaty was drafted in the wake of the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II and adopted unanimously by the United Nations in 1948. It makes genocide, intent to commit genocide and complicity in genocide an international crime that signatories to the treaty or an international tribunal would punish.
With the exception of Dwight D. Eisenhower, every president since Harry S Truman has urged the Senate to ratify the treaty. President Reagan announced his support on Sept. 5.
During debate yesterday, supporters of the treaty said past intransigence on the treaty had cast the United States in a bad light and that the Senate had an opportunity to change that.
"This is an historic opportunity for the Senate to reaffirm its commitment to human rights," said Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.). He added that it "will have strong positive implications for American foreign policy."
However, opponents said the treaty was being pushed through to ratification without appropriate committee consideration. Although the treaty has been the subject of numerous hearings, all but one were held years ago, the opponents said.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), suggesting that the treaty was being railroaded, said, "I hate genocide as bad as anybody, but I smell the diesel fuel of a railroad train burning."
After opponents indicated they would use potentially dozens of amendments to hold up the treaty, Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) proposed the nonbinding resolution.
Baker said he did not want the Senate's inability to agree on the treaty to "create the impression that the principles of this convention treaty are not supported by this body."
He said shelving the treaty in favor of the resolution was "infinitely preferable to letting this matter disintegrate into a filibuster."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said, "I would prefer we ratify the . . . treaty, but I realize that it is not something we're likely to do. This is a significant step forward in the long four-decade effort" to try and approve the treaty.