U.N. Acts on Racial Bias; Action on Religious Discrimination Pending
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U.N. Acts on Racial Bias; Action on Religious Discrimination Pending

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The United Nations yesterday agreed by an overwhelming vote at its Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee to issue–for the first time in the organization’s history–a resounding Declaration calling for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. Religious discrimination was mentioned only casually in the document. There is a separate United Nations agenda item on the elimination of religious discrimination, but it was doubted today whether this year’s General Assembly will reach that point even for debate.

The General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, a body composed of all of the UN’s III members, voted 89 to 0 for the declaration, assuring its adoption by the General Assembly as a whole. Seventeen members, including the United States and Britain, abstained with explanations that their stand concerned chiefly one clause, which calls on all members to adopt legislation to outlaw organizations which “promote” racial discrimination. The Western Powers explained that such a clause was contrary to their constitutions or present laws guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly.

Except for that point, which the United States and Britain hoped to amend–while the Soviet Union staunchly insisted that it must not be altered–the declaration received virtually unanimous approval in principle. Israel, which had opposed some clauses because they were considered by the Jewish State as not being strong enough, voted in favor of the declaration as a whole.

Throughout the lengthy preamble and the II separate articles constituting the declaration, the emphasis was laid entirely on the elimination of discriminations for racial color or ethnic reasons. The word “religion” appeared in the declaration only twice. Once, the preamble mentioned the UN Charter’s objectives toward “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” Later, in one of the operative articles, the declaration stated:

“Particular efforts shall be made to prevent discrimination based on race, color or ethnic origin, especially in the field of civil rights, access to citizenship, education, religion, employment, occupation and housing.”

The II articles of the declaration embraced outlawry of every type of racial ethnic or color discrimination in virtually every conceivable field, except religion; forbade the advocacy of such discriminations; called for special measures and legislation to forbid such practices; asserted the equality of all before the law; embraced education, teaching and politics; banned propaganda and organizations “based on ideas or theories of the superiority” of one race or ethnic group above others; and outlawed incitements to acts of violence on racial, color or ethnic grounds by all organizations, states and individuals.


During the protracted debates on the declaration–which took up 25 sessions of the Committee and involved more than 50 amendments–Israel had pointed out that religious discriminations should have been bracketed with racial bias. Israel had also insisted that the difference between “ethnic” and “religious” discrimination is often a “borderline” issue. The Israel representative noted, without mentioning the Soviet Union by name, that in “a certain great country” Jews suffer discriminations which are sometimes based on “ethnic” grounds.

Meanwhile, in the same Committee, the United States and The Netherlands urged that the UN Commission on Human Rights give priority to a draft declaration banning all forms of religious discrimination. The Dutch representative, J.L.C. Beaufort, told the committee that the Human Rights Commission should consider the religious question and that “nothing should be allowed to hinder this priority, because of the importance of the subject.”

Supporting the delegate from The Netherlands, John E. Means, U.S. delegate in the committee, said “all due priority” should be given to the draft declaration on religious intolerance. The U.S.A. had previously taken the stand that the 1964 meeting of the Human Rights Commission be suspended for a year for financial reasons. Now, Mr. Means declared, since Costa Rica had invited the Commission to meet in that country in 1964, his delegation “would consider the invitation on its merits” when the bid is presented formally by a member state.

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