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The Role of Human Rights in Foreign Policy

The Role of Human Rights in Foreign Policy
Lorne W. Craner
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Address to Heritage Foundation
October 31, 2001

It is an honor to be invited to speak at the Heritage Foundation, where your guiding principles are free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values and strong defense.

I would like to thank Dr. Kim Holmes for inviting me, and more importantly, for the leadership he has shown in the foreign policy arena. I have read many Heritage Foundation foreign policy publications that have his stamp, and am especially aware of his good work on East- West relations.

Also, Heritage Foundation audiences consist of individuals who care passionately about liberty and freedom. Over the years, many of you have probably written editorials, Congressional Record Statements, and letters to editors on human rights issues. Some of you may well have been directly involved in helping to build our country's human rights policy in the Reagan or Bush I Administrations, and so you know first hand that the U.S. commitment to human rights has a strong foundation.

Dr. Holmes has asked that I speak today about the role of human rights in the Bush Administration. This is a great assignment because I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that in the Bush Administration human rights and democracy work is alive and well.

The world has changed dramatically for all of us since September 11, and some people have expressed the concern that, as a result of the attacks on America, the Bush Administration will abandon human rights and democracy work. To those people I say boldly that this is not the case. In fact, maintaining the focus on human rights and democracy worldwide is an integral part of our response to the attack, and is even more essential today than before September 11th. They remain in our national interest in promoting a stable and democratic world.

As Dr. (Condoleezza) Rice said only a week after the horrific attack, "Civil liberties matter to this President very much, and our values matter to us abroad. We are not going to stop talking about the things that matter to us, human rights, religious freedom and so forth and so on. We're going to continue to press those things; we would not be American if we did not." In practical terms, we continue to raise human rights issues at the highest levels of governments worldwide and have made it clear that these issues remain important to us.

We do so because there is often a direct link between the absence of human rights and democracy and seeds of terrorism. Promoting human rights and democracy addresses the fear, frustration, hatred and violence that is the breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists. We cannot win a war against terrorism by halting our work promoting the universal observance of human rights. To do so would be merely to set the stage for a resurgence of terrorism in another generation. As Thomas Jefferson said: that government is the strongest of which every may feels a part.

At the very least, the brutality of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the fact that it was completely unprovoked suggest that models based on what we used to call the "rational actor" are far from fully comprehensive -- unless, of course, you are willing to take Clausewitz one step further and suggest that not only is war politics by another means, but so, too, is terrorism. But that would be to give it a legitimacy that it clearly does not merit.

Even so, what drives individuals -- not states, but men, individual, independent actors -- to assume the cloak of moral or religious rectitude and declare holy war on a country? This is not an attack on armies, but on symbols. Obviously, we need to learn how to fight the perceptions and misperceptions that lie behind all that better than we do. The question that we all are asking ourselves since that terrible day last month is this: how do we, who have the responsibility for promoting and protecting the values that underpin civil society at home and throughout the world, pick our way through all the causes and effects of that and make sure that it does not happen again?

Obviously, there is much we can do: in intelligence-gathering and information sharing, in civil defense and homeland security, in diplomacy and economic leveraging, in international cooperation and coalition-building, in pressure and in force. All this the Administration is doing, and much, much more.

My point is not to venture into the realm of military strategy. That is not my responsibility in this Administration. Fortunately for all of us, the President has assembled a very experienced and capable team for that.

This country is not the cause of all the problems of this world -- quite the contrary. We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to solve them. But still, we cannot be everywhere at once. We cannot solve every regional dispute and ethnic conflict. And yet, we are the sole superpower. Our reach is global and unprecedented. People look to us. Our power and our potential are immense. We have interests and we have obligations to our friends and allies.

As the head of the bureau charged with advising the President and Secretary of State on human rights, I have to worry about the causes and consequences of conflicts wherever they take place, for all of them involve human rights in one way or another -- whether in Sudan or Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Macedonia, or the Middle East.

I suspect most of you are looking to hear something about this administration's priorities within the field of human rights, especially after the September 11th attacks. Let me begin by outlining the general principles that I think will guide us.

First: Over the past 20 years, both political parties--Republicans and Democrats--have firmly embraced the belief that America has an obligation to advance fundamental freedoms around the world. Thus human rights have the deep and strong backing of both parties, all branches of government, and, most importantly, the American people. This will not change.

In a multilateral sense, the United States has been the unquestioned leader of the movement to expand human rights since the Second World War. We pushed it in the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and into the conventions and treaty bodies that have ensued. And when I say "we," I do not just mean the U.S. government. For it was our people, Americans from every walk of life, who gave the international NGO movement so much of its intellectual force, its financial muscle, and its firm commitment to civil society.

This, too, will not change. We in this Administration are conscious of our history and are proud to bear the mantle of leadership in international human rights into this new century.

While my first point is the continuity of our policy, the second is the way our approach to human rights policy will shift.

Our policy in this Administration, and it is certainly true after September 11, is to focus on U.S. national interests. Lest that sound bloodless to my colleagues in the human rights community, it should be understood that the definition of national interests can never be as narrow as it was through the late 1970s. Indeed, those at high levels of this administration watched during those years as a narrow definition of national interests led us to back the Shah of Iran, Somoza and others. As Colin Powell writes in his autobiography, "In the end, in Iran, all our investment in an individual, rather than a country, came to naught. When the Shah fell, our Iran policy fell with him. All the billions we spent there only exacerbated conditions and contributed to the rise of a fundamentalist regime implacably opposed to us..."

Our focus on national interests will come by concentration on advancing human rights and democracy in countries important to the United States. Some are obvious--nations of the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, Colombia and Cuba--but others come to mind, including nations in Africa with a high demonstration value in their respective regions, such as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Nigeria.

A third characteristic of our democracy policy will be a willingness to take on tough jobs, long term projects in countries and regions that today appear inhospitable to human rights and democracy. We are working every day to end human rights violations in China, but beneath the surface are developments in terms of rule of law, basic elections at the village level, nascent legislative oversight and some journalistic independence. These changes are necessitated by economic development, but they are also important blocks in building a democratic society.

Similarly, in the Persian Gulf, Oman is experimenting with an increasingly independent legislature and Qatar will hold local elections, with women voting, in 2003. No one, least of all me, would claim any of these countries are democracies, and it may be that the end result, many years from now, is not precisely comparable to our democratic system. The point is that the United States is now willing to assist those working to bring pluralism to their countries, even if it may only occur over the long term.

In countries that have already made democratic breakthroughs, a fourth tenet of our policy will be to increase governance assistance. In the 1980s, many believed that elections made a democracy. In the 1990s, we concentrated on the demand side of governance, civil society. We cannot lose our proficiency in helping advance balloting, political parties and non-governmental organizations abroad. But the challenge of the third decade of democracy assistance must be helping new democratic rulers govern their countries in a manner that advances democratic practices, an end to the corruption that often afflicts authoritarian nations, and economic well being. The latter is especially important; if those who have lived with tyranny associate democracy with economic dislocation-- in other words, losing their jobs--they could well choose to revert to stable authoritarianism.

A component of this effort will be an emphasis on labor rights. This administration does not see globalism as the enemy, just the opposite. Globalism can promote democratic ideas as well as economic growth, but we do believe that it can be made kinder and gentler. Indeed, as I just outlined, an absence of attention to worker rights would lead to dissatisfaction in a developing democracy, and therefore take us back in time.

In a similar vein, one of the areas where I think we in the human rights community can gain some important new leverage is with this country's companies and corporations. In the first place, they are laboratories of innovation, repositories of experience, talent, and, yes, resources. They have relationships that go beyond those we have in government. But more than that, an increasing number of businesses share some of our interest in advancing human rights. Why? Because countries that respect human rights have more open and transparent laws and financial systems, less corruption, better educated workforces, more stability and security.

I don't want to oversell the idea. Business runs on profits, not on human rights. But more and more companies are beginning to see that they can help themselves by paying close attention to giving back to the communities in which they operate. Companies are also anxious to protect their corporate image and reputations.

That's why my bureau is giving a high priority to working with many companies on issues of corporate responsibility, building on the good work the previous administration did in this domain. We are especially proud of the beginnings of progress made with oil and gas and mining companies, who often operate in very difficult situations in countries riven with conflict and internal tension. By working together with governments and NGOs, companies can strengthen the business and human rights environment that is needed for their success. Changing the face of globalization may require us to change the way that we as members of the global community do business.

An additional area of emphasis for the administration will be in the area of religious freedom, tolerance and understanding. Our nation was founded on this ideal. I will work to ensure, to a greater degree than has been the case, and particularly in light of the events of September 11th, that it receives due consideration in our foreign policy. We will also seek allies abroad in our efforts, for other countries and the United Nations are working to integrate considerations of religious freedom into their diplomacy.

Finally, our core function in DRL, our key legislative mandate, is monitoring and reporting on human rights conditions throughout the world. This process, I believe, is of great value to our country. The monitoring we do, in conjunction with our human rights officers in the field, the media and the growing human rights NGO community, ensures a steady stream of information will flow throughout out government.

No other country produces anything like our annual reports on country situations, international religious freedom, and now trafficking in human beings. Even the NGOs, who often have occasion to criticize us, have for some time acknowledged their accuracy, integrity, and comprehensive nature. That is a tribute to my predecessors, most notably Harold Koh. The policy of making honest, comprehensive reports on every country is the world is one that both Republicans and Democrats embrace. And because they are available to everyone, via the Internet, they can now reach millions of people across the globe. This reinforces the seriousness with which the United States takes human rights. And so our dedication to the quality, integrity and inclusiveness of our reporting will not change, even as the number we are asked to prepare keeps growing.

To do all of this more effectively, we will also need partners. We will be looking to work with other organizations, from the private sector, the NGO and faith-based communities, other governments, and the specialized U.N. agencies. And we will be looking to work with other branches of our government, as well: USAID which shares our concern with promoting human rights and democracy programs; the Justice Department where we cooperate on rule of law programs: and the Defense Department where we support the human rights components of programs like Plan Colombia, and last but not least the Congress, which brought my bureau into existence, and continues to strongly support human rights activities.

Here I will conclude, and again say thank you to all in this room who have ensured that human rights is and will remain a pillar of American foreign policy.


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