U.N. Delegates Pessimistic on Future of Human Rights Covenant; Doubt Its Ratification

Key members of the U.N. General Assembly’s Social and Human Rights Commission are pessimistic about the future of the Human Rights Covenant, which the group has been discussing for the past week. One top delegate expressed the opinion today that none of the world’s leading powers could be expected to ratify the covenant.

This view is inspired by the difficulties over three aspects of the document which have dogged its drafting for almost a year. Although no votes have yet been taken in the Assembly committee, discussion has shown that a majority of small powers strongly favor, 1. Full application of the Covenant to dependent territories; 2. Exclusion of any “escape” clause relieving federal states of responsibility for the covenant’s movisions in their semi-autonomous states and provinces; 3. An implementation scheme allowing for individual or group petitioning against alleged violations of the international pact.

Without these three elements, most groups concerned with the human rights question believe that the document would be very ineffectual; that stringing along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights–and its moral authority–would be preferable. On the other hand, federal states, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Brazil, and colonial powers such as Britain, Holland and France, are implacably opposed to exclusion of the escape clauses and have hinted from time to time that without them ratification would be a serious problem.

The Soviet Union is expected to shun the treaty because of the absence in its terms of reference to economic and social rights, which the current debate has shown are not wanted. This debate is a discussion of these principles and after decisions on them have been taken by the Assembly, the covenant will go back to the Human Rights Commission for re-drafting on the basis of those decisions.

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