It seems right that, in the month the liberation of the concentration camps is being commemorated, the Senate will once again consider the Genocide Treaty. The pact, which was in part a response to the Holocaust, has been accepted by 96 countries, but not this one. For 36 years the Senate has refused to consent to ratification, first because of fears that the United States would be accused of genocide because of segregation, and later because of similar fears concerning our actions in Vietnam.
Last year, supporters of the treaty were given a boost when President Reagan pressed for ratification. The treaty was approved by the Foreign Relations Committee on a 17-to-0 vote, but it never came to a vote on the floor because time ran out. Instead, the Senate adopted a resolution supporting the principles of the agreement and urging prompt consideration this year. The Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote April 23, which will leave plenty of time for a floor debate, if it is needed.
Sen. Jesse Helms, who did not oppose the treaty last year, has raised some questions about its provisions that may delay consideration. Sen. Helms asserts that the rights of Americans might be jeopardized under the treaty because, by its terms, the World Court is authorized to hear cases concerning its interpretation. The World Court, of course, is not a criminal tribunal, and no one can be tried and punished for acts in violation of the treaty in that forum. Moreover, it does not have the power to enforce its judgments and must rely on the Security Council of the United Nations -- where the United States has a veto -- to apply sanctions. Nevertheless, Sen. Helms has indicated his intention to offer a reservation that would take the World Court out of the treaty entirely. Even worse, he has peuaded the administration to accept his terms in the interest of speeding Senate consideration.
The Helms reservation is an old ploy used time and again by those who want to sink the treaty by frightening their countrymen. There is absolutely no threat to any American in this treaty, and it is ridiculous to try to persuade citizens that they will be at the mercy of foreign judges if it is ratified. This country can honestly and proudly affirm its abhorrence of genocide by agreeing to the treaty. Continued reluctance to consent to ratification simply gives others grounds to question the American commitment to human rights. The public has done nothing to deserve that slur.