U. N. Body Certain to Act This Week on Protection of Religious Rights
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U. N. Body Certain to Act This Week on Protection of Religious Rights

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Champions of worldwide religious freedoms–including proponents of the unfettered right of Soviet Jews to practice their religion–were seen here today on the way to a victory deemed highly significant. After two years, during which the Soviet bloc has been trying to kill consideration of a draft Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance, all signs pointed to the adoption of such a document by the Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities either tomorrow or Wednesday.

Among the provisions of the draft, which contains a long preamble declaring among other things that elimination and prevention of all forms of religious intolerance is “one of the fundamental objectives of the United Nations,” the draft Declaration would condemn religious discriminations as “an offense to human dignity” as well as a violation of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration would forbid all states to practice such discriminations; enjoin all governments to prevent such discriminations, passing new legislation along such lines where necessary; and give the right to individuals or groups charging religious discrimination to take such issues to the national courts. One article in the draft declares unequivocally that parents or legal guardians have the “right to decide upon the religion or belief in which a child should be brought up.”

Touching upon rights which the Soviet Union is accused of denying to Jews in the USSR, the Declaration states that all persons or groups “shall be free to worship and profess, in public or in private” without discrimination; and that fall religious communities must enjoy the right to associate with other individuals or groups, “on a national regional or local basis.”


Other rights that are now denied to Russian Jews, and would be guaranteed by the Declaration, would grant full rights to all religions to “teach and learn religion or belief” using the “sacred language” of that religion–meaning Hebrew in the case of Soviet Jews; grant the right to write, print and publish books and texts required by a religion–meaning prayer books, calendars and other works needed by religious Jews; grant the right “to observe the dietary practices” required by a religion, meaning kashruth and matzohs in the case of Russian Jewry; and make it mandatory upon a state that controls means of production to provide such materials as may be needed by a religious group “and if necessary to allow them to be imported.”

Another point Affecting Soviet Jewry provides that it is a “right” of believers to make pilgrimages “to sites held in veneration, inside or outside” the country. That clause would permit Soviet Jews to make pilgrimages to Israel. The right of religious practitioners to observe their own days of rest and Holy Days is also guaranteed in the draft. So, also, are the rights of religious marriages and “equal legal protection” to religious groups to observe their own “funeral or memorial rites” and to have their own cemeteries. There have been instances recently, when cemetery rights were denied to some Jews in large Soviet cities.

The draft further outlaws “all Incitements to hatred or acts of violence, whether by individuals or organizations, against any religious group of persons belonging to any religious community.” That provision would affect not only the Soviet Union but also South American countries and other lands where neo-Nazism has been manifested in recent years. One clause would bar discriminations on religious grounds in regard to citizenship. The debate in the subcommission has made it clear that this clause is aimed at Iraq, where new regulations barring Jews from citizenship were promulgated recently.


The draft Declaration expected to be adopted had been introduced, then revised, by Arcot Krishnaswamt, the Indian member of the 14-man subcommission. The Communist bloc in the United Nations has been fighting for two years against adoption of a document forbidding religious discriminations, concentrating instead on a Convention for the outlawing of racial discrimination.

The Krishnaswami draft obtained first priority on the subcommission’s agenda, after Morris B. Abram, the United States member–who is chairman of the executive board of the American Jewish Committee–withdrew a similar draft of his own. A third draft, proposed by Peter Calvocoressi of Britain, was partially incorporated in Mr. Krish-naswami’s revision. There was a fourth draft, proposed last week by Isaac Lewin, representative here of World A gudath Israel. But since no member of the subcommission assumed sponsorship of the Lewin proposal, that draft lay dormant.

Proponents of the Krishnaswaml draft said today that they are assured of at least seven votes of the subcommission members, and were certain that they would obtain a majority of the 14 votes when it came to balloting.

Pending further discussion of the religious freedom draft, the subcommission today came near ending its debate on the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Intolerance. Two of the articles already adopted in that instrument are aimed at the Soviet Union.

One clause asserts that any person, regardless of race or ethnic origin, has “the right to leave any country including his own, and to return to his country.” That provision would give Soviet Jews the right to emigrate. Another clause guarantees to all racial or ethnic groups “equal participation in cultural activities.” “Cultural genocide” against Jews, as practiced in the Soviet Union, has been mentioned during the debate by several members of the subcommission, especially by Mr. Abram.

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