Israel Backs Naming of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
Menu JTA Search

Israel Backs Naming of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

A powerful plea for the establishment of a new United Nations office to be named "High Commissioner for Human Rights" — a move strenuously opposed by the Soviet Union — was made by Israel here today before the U.N. Commission for Human Rights. The appeal was voiced by Israel’s member of the 32-nation Commission, Supreme Court Justice Haim H. Cohn, who, in the course of his speech, condemned the Soviet Union’s "policy of forcible assimilation" of Russian Jewry without, however, naming the USSR.

"A High Commissioner for Human Rights, " Justice Cohn told the Commission, "who would be able to conduct proper investigations, might take effective action against the violation of some of the very rights and freedoms for which the last great war was heroically fought and won. With the defeat of the German master-men by the combined moral strength of the great nations, one would have thought that the singling out of the Jews for special treatment would have become a subject of contempt and ridicule. But prejudices leading to systematic violation of human rights still persist in spite of vehement denials. The evidence is so overwhelming as not to leave any reasonable doubt in the mind of any unbiased observer."

Aiming, then, directly at the Soviet Union and the fate of its 3, 000, 000 Jews, but avoiding in accordance with protocol the mention of any country by name, Justice Cohn continued:

"I refer not to physical but to the cultural suppression of a people. You may prevent discrimination in social and economic fields and still violate fundamental rights and freedoms — by not allowing a people to develop their own culture, speak their own language, practice their own religion, maintain their own schools, and by pursuing a policy of forcible assimilation to the culture, language and irreligion of the majority. The propaganda is generally so formidable that what results is not persuasion but fear; not conviction but panic; not voluntary self-determination but a coerced self-denial under duress.

"We must, in this Commission, find ways and means to bring home to all nations, even the most powerful and prestigious among them, that the rights and freedom of religious and racial minorities are being watched and taken care of by the international community. The establishment of the office of a High Commissioner for Human Rights may perhaps lead to the solution of these problems."

"The proposal for the establishment of a U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights has been on the United Nations agenda for more than two years, and was formally proposed to the Commission by Costa Rica last year. Since then, a nine-member working group named by the Commission had set up guidelines for the formation of the new office, but left the decision on whether or not to establish the new office to the full Commission.

At a stormy meeting of the Commission yesterday, the chief Soviet delegate, Yakub A. Ostrovski, attacked the United States representative on the Commission, Morris B. Abram, for backing the move toward establishment of a U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr. Ostrovski, ignoring the fact that Mr. Abram spoke formally for the U.S. Government, attacked Mr. Abram, instead, as president of the American Jewish Committee. Mr. Abram replied to the Soviet representative with a sharp rebuke.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund