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Proxmire Honored for His Fight to Ratify the Genocide Treaty

Sen. William Proxmire (D. Wisc.) stressed Monday that although the Senate ratified the Genocide Treaty in February after a 37-year battle, the implementing legislation still needs to be passed by Congress. In addition, Proxmire said that for the treaty to be “effective,” the Senate must eventually rescind the amendment introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms (R. NC), and adopted, prohibiting the United State from being taken before the World Court. Despite the amendment, Helms was one of 11 Senators who voted against ratification.

The U.S. will never be taken before the World Court on a charge of genocide, Proxmire told the some 60 persons attending the annual policy meeting of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, a joint body of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).

“But what that means is we cannot hail another country before the World Court,” Proxmire explained. Noting that the U.S. and the Soviet Union are the only major countries to have this restriction, he added, “Here we have the two superpowers saying ‘we are above the law’.”

Proxmire’s comments came as he was honored by the UAHC and CCAR for his 19-year effort to get the treaty ratified. “Bill Proxmire, more than any single member of the U.S. Senate is responsible for the ratification of the Genocide Treaty,” Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio) said.

Metzenbaum, who was chairman of the Social Action Commission in 1973-74, noted that starting in January 1967, Proxmire made a speech for ratification “every single day” the Senate was in session, a total of 3,211 speeches.

“You have taught us by your example that the individual can make a difference,” Rabbi Alexander Schindler, UAHC president, said. Schindler presented Proxmire with a copy of the UAHC’s “The Torah: A Modern Commentary.” The inscription said in part:

“By rising at every session to remind the United States Senate of its moral duty to ratify the Genocide Convention, you touched the conscience of America. In the spirit of the Hebrew prophet, you summoned humanity to cease to do evil and to establish peace and justice at the gates.”

Schindler noted that the Genocide Treaty was drafted in the UAHC offices by the late Raphael Lemkin. Proxmire, who has frequently paid tribute to Lemkin, said that Lemkin coined the word “genocide.”

Proxmire said that the implementing legislation is expected to be sent to Congress by the Justice Department in about a month. He said it is in “good shape in the House.” But, in the Senate, he noted it must come before the Judiciary Committee whose chairman, Strom Thurmond (R. SC), and four other members voted against ratification. “So we’re going to have to work hard” to adopt the legislation, Proxmire stressed.

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