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  • Human Rights Strategies of the 1960s Within the United Nations: A Tribute to the Late Kamleshwar Das
  • Roger S. Clark (bio)

I. Introduction

Dr. Kamleshwar Das, who died at the end of 1997, was a major source of inspiration to me and to many others in the field of human rights. After completing his doctorate at Cambridge University under the supervision of Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, he joined the newly formed Division of Human Rights at the United Nations. There he labored for twenty-eight years, retiring as its Deputy Director. I first met him in late 1967 through his friend Dr. George Barton, one of my teachers at Victoria University. I was then a graduate student at Columbia University. Dr. Das encouraged me to spend time at the Division (then in New York) as an intern the following summer. He gave invaluable help in the writing of my doctoral dissertation on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (published as a book in 1972) and in many later endeavors. This article, offered as a tribute to his memory, seeks to capture some of the human rights “mood” of the 1960s and some of the strategies that Das and those who worked with him were trying to follow.

As with any other period in the life of the United Nations, initiatives across a broad series of fronts characterized the sixties. Sometimes it seemed as though these fronts were connected only by the sweeping principles of the UN Charter 1 and the usual stark disagreements about how [End Page 308] to concretize those principles into rules of detailed application. Most of the efforts built on steps already taken in the 1940s, with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 2 and the efforts of the organization to deal with South West Africa and with the broader problem of apartheid. Underlying all of the 1960s initiatives and the painstaking building on what went before were, however, two basic strategies: (i) to complete the drafting of fundamental instruments, and (ii) to devise methods of implementation. These two themes occur over and over again in all the major debates of the decade.

The discussion that follows is in two parts. The first, an overview, touches on the basic trends of the decade. The second discusses a number of the most significant particular initiatives of the period, some successes, some failures: decolonization and race; communications; periodic reports; good offices of the Secretary-General; the High Commissioner for Human Rights proposal; seminars and studies; and updating the laws of war. Kamleshwar Das had a hand in them all.

II. Overview—Successes, Failures, and Trends of the Decade

The decade opened with the two Covenants (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 3 and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 4 ) promised since the successful completion of the Universal Declaration in 1948, seemingly stalled in perpetuity in the General Assembly. No serious drafting work had been done on them since the mid-fifties. And no other major human rights treaties were in sight.

The decade closed with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) 5 —now one of the most widely ratified of UN human rights treaties—in force, and the Covenants [End Page 309] and the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR 6 completed and waiting upon sufficient ratifications to enter into force. These were dramatic and largely unexpected developments.

By 1970, moreover, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and the Commission on Human Rights were poised, after several false starts, to take some action on communications.

Throughout the decade, there were a number of other points of achievement, both on the normative drafting front 7 and on that of efforts at procedural innovation. 8 Once CERD and the Covenants were completed, the balance of emphasis and effort began to shift in the last years of the decade, hesitantly and with many setbacks, in a direction away from new substantive legislation and toward modes of supervision and enforcement. This is not to say that the task of drafting standards was over then or now—just that the other aspect of the...

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