Political Prisoners

October 8, 1976

Report Outline
Worldwide Disregard of Human Rights
Legal Standards for Non-Violent Dissent
U.S. Role in Human Rights Protection
Special Focus

Worldwide Disregard of Human Rights

U.S. Appeal for Release of Political Prisoners

The plight of political prisoners involves more than the suffering of individual men and women whose only crime was to speak out against the policies of their governments or to be considered a threat to those in power. For the most part, political prisoners remain anonymous, the forgotten victims of regimes that will not tolerate dissent. It is only when politicians, artists, journalists, intellectuals and other well-known persons are imprisoned or when governments declare an amnesty for political prisoners, as Spain did recently, that the problem receives much publicity. In the past year, the United States has sought on several occasions to bring the political prisoner issue to world attention.

The United States last November proposed a worldwide amnesty for political prisoners. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appealed to all governments to release “persons deprived of their liberty primarily because they have … sought peaceful expression of beliefs and opinions at variance with those held by their governments or have sought to provide legal or other forms of non-violent assistance to such persons.”

In his plea for universal amnesty, Moynihan complained about the “selective morality of the United Nations in matters of human rights.” The General Assembly, he contended, did not hesitate in condemning South Africa, Spain, Chile and Israel—countries “which permit enough [Moynihan's emphasis] freedom for internal opposition to make its voice heard when freedoms are violated”—while ignoring worse but less-publicized human rights violations in other nations. The reaction to the American proposal tended to confirm Moynihan's charge of “selective morality.”

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