Genocide Convention Ratification Faces New Delays As Lugar, Helms Propose Senate Add Reservations
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Genocide Convention Ratification Faces New Delays As Lugar, Helms Propose Senate Add Reservations

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was urged today by the Reagan Administration as well as its own chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Ind.), to work toward Senate ratification of an international convention against genocide concluded 36 years ago.

But separate recommendations proposed at hearings today by Lugar and Sen. Jesse Helms (R.N.C.) for the adoption of reservations suggested approval of the convention is even further from sight than it was last autumn when a promised filibuster led by Helms forced the measure to be temporarily shelved.

The International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was concluded in response to the atrocities committed against Jews in World War II. It was signed by President Harry Truman on December 11, 1948 and has subsequently been signed by 95 other countries and endorsed by every President since Truman except for Eisenhower. But the treaty has failed to win Senate ratification largely because of conservative opposition.

The treaty defines genocide as any act “committed with intent to destroy in whole or part a national ethnic, racial or religious group.” It calls for recognition by all signatories that “genocide, whether committed in time of peace or war, is a crime under international law, which they undertake to prevent and punish.”

Helms and other conservatives have long opposed ratification of the treaty as compromising U.S. sovereignty. Among his objections is an article stipulating that disputes involving charges of genocide by one party to the convention against another “shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.”


Lugar said today he would support ratification of the treaty, as he did when the committee approved it last September, but on the condition that a reservation be included in any final ratification resolution making submission of disputes to the World Court contingent on acceptance of the court’s jurisdiction by all parties involved. A similar reservation was included in a suggested substitute for ratification of the resolution proposed by Helms.

Elliott Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, said in his testimony to the committee today that the Reagan Administration would support Lugar’s recommendation. In his prepared statement, Abrams called for prompt ratification of the treaty saying, “The best time for Senate approval is right now.”

But he concurred with Lugar’s suggestion that the attempt by Nicaragua last year to unilaterally bring its charge of U.S. mining of its harbors to the World Court should serve as a warning against approving the treaty without qualification. Lugar said, “We have only to consider our recent experience in the Nicaraguan case, when the Sandinista regime sought to use the court for political purposes, and the court, sadly, did not resist such abuse.”


Acting Assistant Attorney General Ralph Tarr and Davis Robinson, a legal advisor to the State Department, both said in their initial testimony that they saw no legal obstacles to ratification of the treaty as it now stands. But Helms made clear in his statement and subsequent remarks at the hearings that his opposition to ratification continues and that he would only vote in favor of a resolution approving the treaty after numerous qualifications were made.

Helms blocked the resolution from leaving the committee for a time last September, than finally permitted it to pass by voting “present.” But a promised conservative attempt to delay a full Senate vote resulted in the adoption of an alternative Senate resolution endorsing the principles of the convention.

At the hearings today, Helms suggested, as he has done previously, that the convention could be used unjustly against the Jewish State for its treatment of Arabs. The committee did not schedule a date to consider reservations proposed in today’s hearings.

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