The Soviet delegate caused a ripple of laughter in the United Nations Human Rights Commission by proposing that all references to Poland be omitted from a resolution of concern about human rights violations in that country. Yet the Soviet Union and its clients have had the last laugh before. A year ago the USSR was not mentioned by name when the commission cited armed intervention in Afghanistan. Nor was Vietnam named in citing gross rights violations in Kampuchea under foreign occupation. Indeed, even such unspecific references to communist rights violations have been infrequent enough to support United States pleas about a double standard on rights favoring the East.
Not that the US has been free of complaints that it focuses more on violations by the Soviet-dominated bloc than by others. But Washington stayed somewhat in the background as Western Europeans introduced their resolution of ''deep concern at continued reports of widespread violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Poland.'' And the commission's majority did itself proud by overriding Soviet and Polish protests and asking the UN secretary-general to undertake a thorough study of human rights in Poland as it continues to suffer under the severe conditions of martial law.
Meanwhile, noting the reports that thousands of Poles had been placed in detention, it called on Warsaw to release all those held without charge.
The resolution ought to give some encouragement to the Polish people whose plight was dramatized in a petition by more than a hundred intellectuals and artists earlier this year. The petition said that ''the methods used to intimidate and enslave society cause our indignation and protest'' - and went on to cite shootings, beatings, internments, breaking up of families, and compelling declarations of loyalty under such pressures as blackmail.
Polish leader Jaruzelski has persuaded a number of people that he sincerely laments the shootings that have occurred and wants martial law to be applied humanely. He could fortify this impression by facilitating the proposed UN investigation. Also, by making progress in reducing violations of rights, he could aid the more forbearing Western politicians, such as the US delegation that recently visited Poland. They need signs of positive change as a reason for continuing to save Poland from loan default and to withhold the severe sanctions called for by many.