U.S. Proposal on Freedom of Religion to Come Up Today at U. N. Body
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U.S. Proposal on Freedom of Religion to Come Up Today at U. N. Body

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After several years of obstructions by the Soviet Union and Poland, the United Nations Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities today took up the question of drafting an international convention guaranteeing religious freedom. The draft of such a convention will be presented tomorrow by the representative of the United States, Morris B. Abram, who is also the president of the American Jewish Committee.

The text of the U. S. draft does not mention the Soviet Union by name, in conformance with the Subcommission’s rules. However, it was clear to the members of the Subcommission that the draft is aimed primarily against the Communist countries where religious practices are being restricted by the respective governments, and especially against the Soviet Union where Jews are being denied religious rights as compared with other religions.

The draft of the international convention prepared by Mr. Abram today provoked in advance the opposition of the representatives of the Soviet Union and Poland in the Subcommission. The Polish representative, Wojciech Ketrzynski, told the session today that he will have a draft convention of his own which he wants debated. The representatives of Great Britain and of India also announced that they have prepared texts of their own. The chairman of the Subcommission, Hernan Santa Cruz, of Chile, then said that he would name a working group to consider all the drafts.


Meanwhile, an open clash took place today between Mr. Abram and the Soviet representative, Evgeni N. Nasinovsky, on a related issue. This dispute centered about a proposal made by Mr. Abram that a study being conducted on equality in the administration of justice must include not only statements from governments but also data supplied by non-governmental organizations. The study is being conducted by the Sudanese member of the group, Chief Justice Abou Rannat, of Sudan.

Mr. Abram urged Justice Rannat to include, specifically, a recent report by the International Commission of Jurists which accuses the Soviet Union of persecuting Russian Jews in connection with trials for alleged “economic crimes.” Mr. Nasinovsky objected to the Abram proposal with considerable heat, stating that the report by the International Commission of Jurists “is a libel against the Soviet Union.” Pierre Juveny, of France, supported Mr. Abram’s demand that the International Commission’s data be included in the Rannat report.

The Soviet representative finally said his Government was not opposed to the participation of non-governmental organizations, provided such organizations were affiliated with organizations in the Soviet Union. Mr. Abram retorted that, while such an attitude was well and good, he wanted to know about organizations that were not allowed to have affiliates in the Soviet Union, such as Jewish organizations.

None of the Jewish non-government organizations accredited to the UN have affiliates in the USSR. Such groups include the World Jewish Congress, Agudath Israel, B’nai B’rith, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Angle-Jewish Association. Alliance Israelite Universelle, and others.


The U. S. text of the draft for an international pact to eliminate religious discriminations, which Mr. Abrams will introduce tomorrow, calls upon all governments of the world “to preserve, protect and defend the right to freedom of thought.” It stipulates that “every person and every group or community have the right to manifest their religion or belief in public or in private, without being subjected to any discrimination on the ground of religion or belief.” This right, the text points out, includes in particular:

“1. Freedom to worship, to assemble and to establish and maintain places of worship or assembly.

“2. Freedom to teach, to disseminate at home and abroad and to learn their religion or belief including its sacred language and traditions (pointing to the fact that Hebrew is a forbidden tongue in the Soviet Union).

“3. Freedom to observe the rites, dietary practices and customs of their religion or belief, and to produce the objects, foods and other articles and facilities customarily used in their observances and practices, with freedom to import such articles from abroad if necessary.” (This article points particularly again at the Soviet Union–without mentioning the USSR, where restrictions have been placed on baking of matzoth and the making and supply of Hebrew prayer books, mezuzahs and calendars.)

“4. Freedom to practice their religion or belief by establishing and maintaining charitable and educational institutions.

“5. Freedom to observe the Holy Days associated with their religion or belief. Everyone shall have the right to make pilgrimages and other Journeys in connection with their religion or belief, whether inside or outside his country, and free access shall be granted to all Holy Places.

“6. Legal protection for their places of worship, for their rites, ceremonies, and activities, and for the burial places associated with their religion or belief.

“7. Freedom to organize and maintain local, regional, national and international associations in connection with their activities. Everyone shall have the right to communicate with and visit his co-religionists and believers, whether individuals or organizations, at home or abroad.”

Addressing the Subcommission this morning. Mr. Abram expressed the view that the draft International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance is to be a document treating with precision, frankness and explicitly every subject it set forth to include, if it is to be an efficient instrument. He said that it was necessary for the Subcommission to include in its work researches made by different non-governmental and specialized organizations, such as the recent report by the International Committee of Jurists on economic crimes in the USSR.


In this context, Mr. Abram expressed serious doubts as to the objectivity of an official Ukrainian document recently presented to the United Nations, concerning the ways and means utilized for the elimination in Ukrainia of all forms of racial and religious discrimination. Each problem has to be faced frankly and openly, and not by quoting the Constitution, said Mr. Abram.

Mr. Abram later referred explicitly to the situation of the Soviet Jews. He quoted his correspondence during the whole year of 1964 with Boris Ivanov, Soviet member of the Subcommission, in which Mr. Abram asked Mr. Ivanov’s opinion as to the publication of a State organism, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, of the anti-Semitic book by T. Kichko, “Judaism Without Embellishment.” The only answer which Mr. Abram obtained was a press communique of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, explaining nothing, neither on the moral or on the legal plane.

The Soviet member of the Subcommission answered that “Judaism Without Embellishment” was an isolated case, not reflecting the official attitude of the Soviet Government on these matters. He also asked the Subcommission to be careful in using non-governmental papers which can prejudice official governmental publications.

The French delegate. M. Juvigny, underlined the importance which he attached to the work done by non-governmental organizations, which, in his view, do not minimize the importance of governmental documents but, on the contrary, complete them. Thus, speaking about the book by T. Kichko, M. Juvigny said that it was probably the intervention by some non-governmental organizations interested in those problems, that has drawn world attention to an affair which the government concerned might have had otherwise neglected.


Agreeing that this might be indulging in a hypothesis, the French delegate said that it is doubtful whether the measures finally taken against “Judaism Without Embellishment” would have been the same without this intervention. Dr. Arcot Krishnaswami, of India, also underlined that international opinion forced the authorities of Ukrainia to disavow officially the anti Semitic book.

During the same session, Dr. Marmor, observer for Israel, spoke on the subject of a paragraph concerning the right of everyone to leave any country, including his own. Mr. Marmor mentioned the case of thousands of Jewish families separated after the Second World War. “Could there be a more humane impulse for those fragmented families than to be reunited again, one part of the family living in the USSR and the other in Israel ” he asked.

This effort has, unfortunately, encountered difficulties and it is the emphatic enunciation and the faithful application of the right of everyone to leave any country which could remove them. The members of a split family should be free to decide on where they choose to be reunited, the Israel representative stressed.

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