27. Statement by the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher) Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance1

Human Rights: An Important Concern of U.S. Foreign Policy

I am pleased to be here today to affirm this Administration’s commitment to making human rights an important concern of U.S. foreign policy. President Carter began this Administration with the inaugural pledge that “Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate [Page 103] of freedom elsewhere.”2 Then, in his confirmation hearings, Secretary Vance stated that “we must have policies based upon fundamental values. In particular, we must stand for human rights.”3

The concern for human rights will be woven into the fabric of our foreign policy. If we are to do justice to our goals, we must act always with a concern to achieve practical results and with an awareness of the other demands on our diplomacy. When it is desirable to do so, we will speak out, trying to be neither strident nor polemical. This is not a one-way street, and we must expect that at times others may criticize us. We may decide to communicate by quiet diplomacy with the country involved to see what can be accomplished that way. Or we may prefer to approach the problem not bilaterally, but through multilateral channels. In some instances of human rights violations, assistance programs may be curtailed, but we must also recognize that to be evenhanded, we should not just penalize but also inspire, persuade, and reward.

Already our commitment has prompted definite actions. In pursuit of the goal of majority rule and equal rights in Southern Rhodesia, we have urged the Congress to repeal the Byrd amendment.4 The State Department expressed concern for the fate of human rights activists in Eastern Europe, and President Carter wrote to Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrey Sakharov to convey directly our hopes for the promotion of human rights.5 As part of a continuing review process, we decided to cut the level of security assistance to several countries because of concern over human rights violations.6 We will be instructing our Embassies to press the cause of human rights through private contacts. We are playing an active part in the work of the [U.N.] Human Rights Commission.

As an example of our humanitarian concern for the uprooted and dispossessed, I would observe that during fiscal year 1976 our government has expended some $475 million on assistance to refugees on a worldwide basis, and the United States accepted 31,000 refugees for permanent resettlement in this country. We are of course continuing our generous assistance to refugees in the current year.

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We know that the Congress shares this commitment to human rights and deserves special credit for its attention to this issue in recent years.

The complexity of the challenge compels collaboration between us. By working together more closely and effectively we can restore confidence both at home and abroad in our undertaking to encourage respect for human rights. The Administration, as well as the Congress, must reflect in our policies the values of the American people.

We recognize that these first steps we have taken are just that. Change takes time—as demonstrated by the evolution of human rights within our own country: from religious freedom through the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, the four freedoms, the civil rights movement, and the struggle against poverty to the Equal Rights Amendment. It is a long, hard climb. But the course is firmly set.

There should be no mistake: The undertaking to promote human rights is now an integral part of our foreign policy. We know that domestic support for our policies will falter if they do not reflect traditional American values. But I want it to be clear that this is not a policy of convenience, adopted because of its popularity at home. A commitment to human rights protects the domestic vitality of these values, keeping clear our image of ourselves and encouraging us to make the democratic system work. It helps us to maintain leadership of the free societies that share similar values. And it serves as a pole of attraction to other states and peoples.

The question is neither the direction nor the strength of our commitment. The question we must answer is how to summon the statesmanship and the moral courage to deal with the practical dilemmas and complexities in promoting human rights in our foreign relations. Today I want to discuss briefly the complexities in linking human rights considerations to economic and security assistance.

The United States recognizes a wide range of human rights and believes all must be promoted. Our most concentrated areas of concern have been violations of the integrity of the person—officially sanctioned murders, tortures, or detentions without trial. These, of course, are areas emphasized by the legislation you approved. Political rights and civil protection are also accorded high priority.

At times it is inevitable that these concerns will conflict with our commitment to the goal of economic development. As Secretary Vance has stated, one of our fundamental foreign policy objectives is “to demonstrate America’s compassion for the poor and the dispossessed around the world—those who, through no fault of their own, are [Page 105] exposed to daily suffering and humiliation and are struggling to survive.”7

Other conflicts in policy may arise when the security of the United States is linked to that of a country whose human rights priorities are deficient. It should be uppermost in our minds that security assistance is rendered to maintain or enhance our own security, not to strengthen the hand of a repressive regime, although we must face up to that as an undesired and unintended consequence in certain cases.

We are working to fulfill both the letter and the spirit of current legislation relating human rights concerns to foreign assistance. We can best achieve this purpose through conscientious and systematic review of assistance programs on a country-by-country basis, in each case balancing a political concern for human rights against economic or security goals. In multilateral development banks the United States must work to maintain a broad international consensus and to avoid destructive bloc politics that would impair the pursuit of the banks’ development objectives. No formula can resolve the larger conflicts of these positions, but prudent and dedicated attention to both the basic objectives and the day-to-day operations of our programs can make specific problems more tractable.

We have been developing a series of questions by which to chart the direction of our policy and our progress. Taken together as points of reference, they will make us surer of our basic course and less likely to be driven from it by the force of a particular circumstance. The questions we are considering include:

1. Will our action be useful in promoting the cause of human rights? Will it actually improve the human rights situation at hand? Or is it likely to make it worse?

2. What will be the most effective means of expressing our views? Quiet diplomacy? A public pronouncement? Withdrawal of aid or other tangible sanctions?

3. Even when there is only a remote chance that our action will be influential, does our sense of values, our American ethic, prompt us to speak out or take action?

4. Will others support us? Can we expect the aid of national and international organizations dedicated to furthering human rights?

5. Have we steered away from the self-righteous and strident, remembering that our own record is not unblemished?

6. Finally, have we remembered national security interests and kept our sense of perspective, realizing that human rights cannot [Page 106] flourish in a world impoverished by economic decline or ravaged by armed conflict?

The Administration alone cannot take all the actions that should be part of this government’s efforts on behalf of human rights. The Congress has a unique role to play by reflecting public concern for human rights in the laws it passes and monitoring their implementation, by forming and funding assistance programs, and by assuring that our domestic law is in conformity with our international obligations.

We urge that you join us in giving present legislation with human rights provisions a chance to work and that we carefully consider together any new legislation. As a matter of especially high priority, we also urge your support for repeal of the Byrd amendment.

The first weeks of the Carter Administration have been a time of change and, we believe, a time of renewed hope for the advancement of human rights. We believe our general emphasis on this important arena of international concern has already begun to have a favorable impact. Last week, in a major foreign policy statement, the British Government declared a policy comparable to that of this Administration.8 We hope other governments will both speak out in support of human rights and pursue human rights objectives through their diplomacy.

In a number of countries, important segments of the population have been stirred to raise human rights issues internally. And in several countries, governments have taken positive steps, such as the release of political prisoners, which demonstrate that the voice of this Administration is being heard and listened to. This reaction encourages us along the path we have set.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, March 28, 1977, pp. 289–291. All brackets are in the original. In a February 9 action memorandum to Christopher, Jenkins proposed that Christopher testify before the subcommittee, chaired by Senator Humphrey, owing to Christopher’s eventual “direct supervision over the [Department’s] Office of Human Rights.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770043–2533) The Department transmitted an advance copy of Christopher’s remarks to all diplomatic posts in telegram 49664, March 5. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770077–0054) For the record of the Humphrey subcommittee hearings, see Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session, on Human Rights Issues and Their Relationship to Foreign Assistance Programs, March 4 and 7, 1977 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1977).
  2. See Document 15.
  3. See Document 14.
  4. See footnote 10, Document 19.
  5. The President wrote to Sakharov on February 5. His letter is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 5.
  6. During Vance’s February 24 appearance before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations (see Document 22), he indicated that the Department had requested reduced aid to Argentina, Ethiopia, and Uruguay in the proposed FY 1978 foreign military and security assistance legislation. (Bernard Gwertzman, “Security Links Cited,” The New York Times, February 25, 1977, p. A–1)
  7. For a statement by Secretary Vance on Feb. 24, see BULLETIN of Mar. 14, 1977, p. 236. [Footnote in the original. See footnote 6 above.]
  8. In a March 3 address to the Diplomatic and Commonwealth Writers Association in London, British Foreign Secretary David Owen endorsed the Carter administration’s human rights policy. Owen noted that the British Government would “apply the same standards and judgments to Communist countries” as it did to Chile, Uganda, and South Africa. (Bernard D. Nossiter, “Britain Supports Carter Stand on Human Rights,” The Washington Post, March 4, 1977, p. A–1)