Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Clinton's Foreign Policy Brings New Emphasis to Human Rights

DURING the presidential campaign, Bill Clinton positioned himself as a champion of human rights abroad, promising to crack down on abuses in Bosnia and Haiti.

President Clinton hasn't lived up to all that rhetoric, but nevertheless, analysts say, his administration is putting more emphasis on human rights in the conduct of United States foreign policy than its Republican predecessors did.

About these ads

"There will be an incremental change in the importance of human rights in US foreign policy - there is some evidence of it already," a senior State Department official says. "We will approach the problem of human rights more coherently than the last administration."

The new emphasis on human rights is, in part, a product of the appointments Mr. Clinton has been making to foreign-policy posts. For instance, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for human rights is John Shattuck, formerly an official with Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Another former ACLU leader, Morton Halperin, is set to become an assistant secretary of defense.

Among the administration's early actions on the human-rights front:

* China: The Clinton administration will link renewal of China's most-favored-nation trading status to improvements in its human-rights record - a step President Bush opposed.

* Peru: "We told Peru in the past 10 weeks they would not get International Monetary Fund aid unless they allowed the Red Cross to visit the jails. And they did," the State Department official says.

* Nicaragua: The administration recently released $54 million in aid, only after receiving a commitment on return of confiscated property and halting extrajudicial killings of former contra fighters.

* Haiti: Although Clinton backed off from his campaign pledge to allow Haitian boat people into the US, he has put more pressure than his predecessor on Haiti's armed forces to win the return of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

About these ads

Richard Schifter, US ambassador to the United Nations Humans Rights Commission, says those actions stand in stark contrast to the Bush administration's policy. Mr. Schifter, who resigned as assistant secretary of state for human rights under Mr. Bush, says: "There was a problem in the Bush administration. Overall, the White House did not seem very interested in human rights."

Rep. John Porter (R) of Illinois, chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, cautions that it is now too early to tell how much weight human rights will carry in US foreign policy. But he adds, "We are going to help countries that share our values."

The new emphasis on human rights is ringing alarm bells among some conservatives who decry what they see as the harmful impact of human-rights crusades on US foreign policy under the Carter administration.

James Phillips, deputy director of foreign-policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the human-rights focus poses "potential problems - coming down hard on our friends."

CLINTON officials agree that the quest for human rights must sometimes be tempered by circumstances. For instance, the senior State Department official says it would be pointless to cut off weapons sales to Saudi Arabia as a pressure tactic to extend the rights of Saudi women. "They wouldn't do it. [Instead] they would buy from France and Britain and Germany. It would lose US jobs," the official says.

The State Department official and Schifter cited several other instances in which it may be hard to enforce human-rights policies. For instance, they say, pressing Turkey on human rights could be risky because Ankara controls the assistance pipeline to millions of threatened Kurds isolated in northern Iraq. The officials also pointed out that the US is in a difficult position in pressuring Algeria to restore democracy because it does not want to aid Islamic fundamentalism.

Even Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, says that in foreign policy, the US must consider "strategic, diplomatic, and economic interests - human rights should not be the only consideration."

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.