U.N. Assembly Adopts Covenant on Cultural Freedom; Russia Criticized
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U.N. Assembly Adopts Covenant on Cultural Freedom; Russia Criticized

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The United Nations General Assembly adopted here this weekend, by unanimous vote, two covenants on human rights, one dealing with economic, social and cultural freedoms, the other with rights in the civil and political fields. The covenants will become international treaties when they are ratified or acceded to by a sufficient number of governments.

At the same session, the Assembly adopted, by a vote of 66 in favor, with two against and 38 abstentions, an “optional protocol” which will obligate those governments that adhere to this instrument to permit individuals to complain against human rights violations by their own governments, and could make it possible for one state to complain against human rights violations by another state.

The adoption of the covenants came 12 years after drafts on those subjects were first opened to debate here, in 1954, and 18 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed by the Assembly in 1948 as “a standard of achievement.”

While the Soviet Union joined the United States, Israel and the other members of the United Nations in voting for the covenants, the USSR was severely criticized by Israel and the Dominican Republic for its suppression of cultural and religious rights now given full legal recognition through the newly-adopted covenants. Neither Israel nor the Dominican Republic, however, named the USSR specifically.

Ambassador Michael S. Comay, Israel’s permanent representative here, referred only to a country he did not name where, he charged, “deprivations” are suffered by the Jewish people, while other minorities are free from such cultural and religious discriminations. The Dominican envoy, Ambassador Ornes Coiscou, spoke of “Jews who live among the snows of the steppes.”


In his address explaining his favorable votes on both covenants, Mr. Comay reminded the Assembly that the instruments will be binding “only to the extent that sovereign states subscribe to them.” He noted that “the precepts in the present covenants are still a long way from being commitments.” With the adoption of the covenants, he said, “we enter a new and more difficult phase,” the phase of implementation.

Referring to the “bitter and tragic experience of Jewish history in the Diaspora which kept alive for us the basic teachings of Judaism,” the Israeli envoy said: “It is little wonder that we Jews remain intensely aware of fresh manifestations of anti-Semitism, and refuse to take lightly any revived Neo-Nazi tendencies, where they occur.” He was understood to be referring in this context to the resurgence of neo-Nazism in West Germany. Then Mr. Comay told the Assembly:

“At the same time, we remain sensitive to the form of discrimination which denies to a minority the free exercise of its own distinctive faith and culture. This, I regret to say, is not just an academic concern at the present time. We are deeply disturbed at the fact that a large section of the Jewish people suffers such cultural deprivation, and does not enjoy even the same degree of religious autonomy that is still extended to other faiths.”

Mr. Comay stressed particularly one clause in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which reads: “In those states in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other be de members of their group, to enjoy their culture, to profess and practice their own religion or to use their own language.”

“It is our earnest hope,” said the Israeli diplomat, “that this minimal provision will come to be observed in all lands.” He added in concluding his address: “While there is no room for complacency, the adoption of these two covenants represents an important step forward along the road of human progress, and should afford us all satisfaction and a renewal of faith and hope.”

The Dominican Ambassador told the Assembly: “It is necessary to raise our voice again to ask, even to demand that the Jews who live among the snows of the steppes be allowed to read the Torah, to admire the great leader of a people, Moses, to attend their synagogues, to nourish their spirit with traditional ceremonies without which no Jew would feel his life worth living.”

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