1. Memorandum From the Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (Wilson) to All Regional and Functional Assistant Secretaries of State and the Administrator of the Agency for International Development (Parker)1


  • Guidelines on U.S. Foreign Policy for Human Rights

Observance of internationally recognized human rights is important, both in the general formation of US foreign policy and in specific implementation of recent US legislation. In order that the Department may proceed most consistently and effectively in promoting progress in this area, a set of guidelines has been drafted on “US Foreign Policy for Human Rights.” These are intended to formalize and make more systematic our ongoing procedure for dealing with human rights matters.

Should you wish to provide written comments and suggestions on the attached set of guidelines, I would appreciate receiving them by COB, Wednesday, January 12.

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Paper Prepared in the Department of State 2

Guidelines on US Foreign Policy for Human Rights

General Policy

Progress toward full observance of internationally recognized human rights throughout the world is one of the central goals of U.S. foreign policy. To help achieve that objective, we seek social, economic, and political conditions in all countries which foster observance of human rights and encourage attitudes within each country that contribute to progress in this field.

Pertinent Legislation

The Congress has recently enacted legislation designed to help assure the observance of human rights abroad, in the context of certain U.S. bilateral and multilateral relations:

—The Harkin Amendment to bills authorizing increased US participation in the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and initiating US participation in the African Development Fund (ADF) requires that the US Executive Directors to those banks vote against any loan or grant to any country that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights . . . unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people of the country.”3 Similar provisions have been incorporated into the legislation authorizing foreign development assistance.4

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—The International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 19765 states that the US should not provide security assistance “to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” and that whatever security assistance is provided should “promote and advance human rights and avoid identification” of the United States with governments that deny their people human rights. The Act calls on the Secretary of State to provide “full and complete” reports on the human rights practices in each country receiving security assistance.

Checklist for Guidance

Judgments about human rights are necessarily difficult. The Department cannot provide one set of definitive guidelines for all cases. We think it necessary, however, that our personnel at least ask the same questions and proceed as consistently as possible on the basis of comparable data and standards.

To that end, Department officers—whether preparing reports in the field or making findings in Washington—should proceed with the following sequential checklist of questions:

1. What information is available? Embassy investigative reporting, while essential, is not enough. Department officers should seek out evidence provided by the intelligence community, non-governmental organizations, multilateral organizations and Congressional hearings and weigh carefully the reliability of these varied sources. Such data should provide the basis for answering the questions in the following paragraphs.

2. Are there violations of “internationally recognized” human rights? The prime point of reference for this determination, in the view of the Department and the Congress, is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The main focus for purposes of both field reporting and Department decision-making should be on crimes against the person as described in Articles III, V, VIII, IX, X, and XI of the Universal Declaration. (See attachment.)6

3. If there are such violations of “internationally recognized human rights,” were those violations “gross” in nature? Present legislation makes clear that primary attention centers on government-perpetrated or tolerated torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treat[Page 4]ment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, or other flagrant denial to the right to life, liberty, and the security of person.

4. If there are such “gross” violations, is there a “consistent pattern” of same? Since no mathematical formula is appropriate to the wide variety of existing cases, Department personnel should look instead for regular recurrences (for regional, class, ethnic or political patterns), and for changes in the extent of violations over time. The numbers of violations in each category should be reported as precisely as possible.

5. If there does appear to be a case of “consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” what is the role of the government in question? Department personnel should try to provide documentary evidence such as laws, decrees, directives on internal security, etc. showing whether the government itself, through acts of commission or omission, bears responsibility for violations against human rights; whether the government has taken steps to improve the protection of human rights; and whether that government has cooperated with outside inquiries on human rights.

6. Finally, what special circumstances should the Department, in consultation with the Congress, consider as it formulates policies for achieving progress on human rights? Our efforts in behalf of human rights may require us to weigh the following: the degree and character of other U.S. interests in the country; the degree of U.S. influence in the country; likely third-country reaction to U.S. action or inaction on human rights; reaction of democratic elements in the country concerned to possible U.S. actions; and possible retaliation by the host country against U.S. positions on human rights. We may also take into consideration the past and present legal and cultural environment of a given country, the existence of an internal or external threat to national security, the violent or non-violent character of the government and its opposition. However, with specific regard to implementation of legislation governing development assistance and international financial institutions, the only exception to making judgments wholly on the basis of observance of human rights is for situations on which assistance goes directly to “needy people.”


The above guideline questions for thinking and acting in behalf of human rights are part of a continuing Department effort to assure greater progress in this area. To help assure specific implementation of this goal, the following actions will be taken:

1. In complying with human rights legislation relating to U.S. participation in international financial institutions, the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs will provide a schedule of pending loans together with information on whether the Harkin amendment is applicable to the loan or not.

D/HA in conjunction with appropriate geographic bureaus and H, L, EB and S/P will review this material to determine whether, in cases that do not fall under the “needy people” provision of the Harkin amendment, there is evidence of a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.

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Should this review result in agreement, D/HA will so notify the Deputy Secretary, who will make the final decision. Should there be disagreement, there will be a meeting of the Assistant Secretaries concerned with the Deputy Secretary, who will either make the final decision or refer the matter to the Secretary.

2. In the case of human rights legislation regarding AID’s development assistance programs, necessary steps will be taken by the AID Administrator, in coordination with D/HA and the concerned bureaus in the Department, to take the foregoing criteria into consideration in reaching necessary determinations.

3. In the case of security assistance, the foregoing criteria will be applied in the development and review of program proposals by D/HA and concerned bureaus of the Department through the regular processes of the Security Assistance Review Committee and any successor organizations.

  1. Source: Department of State, Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, 1976–1977 Human Rights Subject Files and Country Files, Lot 80D177, SHUM—Policies. Limited Official Use. Addressed to Habib, Rogers, Jordan, Lord, Jenkins, Vest, Leigh, Schaufele, Shlaudeman, Hummel, Hartman, Atherton, Katz, Lewis, and Parker. A typewritten note on the first page reads: “Human rights policy meeting chaired by Deputy secretary decided to bury this—2/14/77.”
  2. No classification marking. No drafting information appears on the paper.
  3. Representative Harkin attached an amendment to H.R. 9721, a bill that increased U.S. participation in the Inter-American Development Bank and authorized U.S. participation in the African Development Fund. President Ford signed the bill into law on May 31, 1976. (P.L. 94–302).
  4. Presumable reference to the International Development and Food Assistance Act of 1975 (H.R. 9005; P.L. 94–161), signed into law by Ford on December 20, 1975. In addition to authorizing a 2-year, $3.1 billion foreign economic aid program, the act, in Section 116, prohibited development aid to any nation engaging in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally-recognized human rights unless Congress determined that such aid benefited the needy. (Congress and the Nation, Volume IV, 1973–1976, pp. 867–869) Harkin authored the human rights amendment to the legislation. (“House Votes to Ban Foreign Aid For Human-Rights Violations,” The New York Times, September 11, 1975, p. A–18)
  5. Signed into law by Ford on June 30, 1976, the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act (P.L. 94–329; 90 Stat. 729) amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87–195; 75 Stat. 424), specified that a principal goal of U.S. foreign policy was to promote observance of human rights, prohibited the extension of security assistance to nations that violated human rights except under extraordinary circumstances, and established the position of Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs within the Department of State. (Congress and the Nation, Volume IV, 1973–1976, pp. 874–877) The position of Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs had been established in 1975. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–3, Documents on Global Issues, 1973–1976, Document 250.
  6. Not found attached.