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Senate Unit Expected to Approve Genocide Convention

April 24, 1985
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An international treaty banning genocide is expected to win the approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week for the sixth time since the U.S. signed the convention 36 years ago.

But some long-standing supporters of Senate approval fear that a proposed reservation introduced by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Ind.), will dilute the substance of the convention to the point where ratification is meaningless.

The reservation would make jurisdiction of the World Court in considering cases of alleged genocide or attempted genocide contingent on the consent of all parties in the dispute. It was introduced partly in response to Nicaragua’s use of the Court last spring to charge the U.S. with having violated international law by mining Nicaraguan harbors. The Reagan Administration rejected the Court’s jurisdiction at that time.

But Lugar’s proposal — endorsed by the Administration — is also seen as a way of overcoming the obstacles that have stalled the treaty’s passage since the U.S. signed the document in 1948. It is a modified version of more extensive modification proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R. N.C.) who managed to block ratification last autumn with a threatened fillibuster.

He and a number of other conservatives have maintained that the treaty as it stands would compromise U.S. sovereignty.

The International Convention on the Prevention of Genocide has been signed by 96 countries including the U.S. since it was concluded in response to the Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Every President except Eisenhower has since endorsed it, including President Reagan who came out publicly in favor of ratification in an address to the B’nai B’rith International last September. Jewish organizations have actively promoted Senate approval of the Convention.


In a speech at Georgetown University last night, Sen. William Proxmire (D. Wis.), who for years has called for ratification of the convention every day that the Senate is in session, said the Lugar reservation reflected an appalling attitude toward international law. He maintained that no other major nation except the Soviet Union has included reservations in its approval of the convention.

Lugar’s reservation, apparently introduced on the initiative of the Administration, has a good chance of winning passage by the committee, Proxmire speculated. He said the reservation contradicts the sentiment expressed in a resolution adopted last autumn by a vote of 87-2 as a temporary alternative to ratification. That resolution endorsed the principles of the convention and pledged to expedite its ratification during this year.

Proxmire suggested that the controversy over Reagan’s visit to the Bitburg military cemetery next month could move some Senators on the committee against the Lugar reservation as a gesture to victims of the Holocaust who have been appealing unsuccessfully for a change in the President’s itinerary.

“I think that the terrible blunder that the President has made will help us. It can’t do anything else,” Proxmire said in response to a question.

Even if a modified ratification bill is moved from the Committee to the Senate floor on Thursday, the new reservation does not guarantee immediate passage. In the meantime, Proxmire told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, that despite his opposition to any reservation he would vote in favor of a modified ratification bill if that is what reaches the Senate floor. “It would be with a heavy heart, but we’ll pass it. You have to settle for what you can get in this world, “Proxmire said.

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