117. Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher)1


  • The Human Rights Foundation

Paul Kreisberg told me of Zbig’s proposal which Jessica brought to yesterday’s meeting. I am aware of its sensitivity but thought you might be interested in my first reactions.2

I share some of the concerns that apparently prompted the proposal: emphasis on promoting human rights (rather than “punishing” violators) in different social and cultural contexts; institutionalization of American concern for human rights beyond this Administration’s span; and a less defensive and reactive posture toward human rights advocates on the Hill, are all worthy goals.

But I see some problems with the details of his proposal:

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—No group financed and appointed by the USG (whatever the legislative/executive mix) will have credibility abroad as truly objective, or free of US policy influence. At the same time, neither will the Government be free from the policy consequences of actions, statements, and programs initiated by the foundation.

—NGOs here or elsewhere which accepted its support (and especially its money) may come to be seen as tools of US policy, and their effectiveness gravely undermined.

—The human rights awards look like gimmicks, and would be seen as self-serving public relations ploys. (Remember Doonesbury’s marvelous series last summer on a human rights award banquet?)3

—A better way to aid the victims of human rights violations is through the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. American attempts to resettle refugees in other people’s countries would be especially open to misunderstanding.

The strongest aspect of the proposal is the information-gathering, research and analysis service such a Foundation could perform. Zbig is unfortunately right that we in the government have not found time to think through the problems of understanding, much less promoting, human rights in different cultural and political contexts.

This part of the proposal is similar to your “clearing house” idea, although as I understand it you would prefer a private organization.4 I have mixed feelings about whether, and if so how, such a group should be linked to the government.

—A private organization would have more credibility, especially if it were not made up of Americans alone.

—A group funded and appointed by the executive branch and legislature together would do more to institutionalize human rights advocacy, beyond this Administration.

—An organization funded by several governments might offer both institutionalization and credibility, if it were not limited to [Page 403] Western governments. But one including LDCs almost certainly would make some human rights judgments sharply at variance with our own.

In sum, Zbig’s idea certainly needs to be pursued, if only because Don Fraser will propose a Human Rights Foundation if we don’t and we both want to influence its shape, and get some credit for it. But we need to give a lot more thought to just what we want, and how to accomplish it. At this point, I think the President should endorse the idea in general (perhaps in a telephone call to Fraser) but indicate that State and the NSC would like to think through the details first within the Administration and then discuss it with Fraser and other key Congressmen.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director, Records of Anthony Lake, 1977–1981, Lot 82D298, Box 17, TL SENSITIVE, 1/1–3/31/78. Confidential; Eyes Only. An unknown hand circled the “Eyes Only” classification marking and added “Sensitive File” and a check mark. An additional notation reads: “To Steve.” A copy of the undated memorandum from Brzezinski to the President (see Document 114) is ibid.
  2. Christopher expressed his reaction in an undated memorandum to Derian, attached to another copy of Brzezinski’s undated memorandum to the President regarding the Human Rights Foundation (see Document 114): “After I pulled myself down off the ceiling, I came to believe that this is a promising concept which needs staffing out so it will be supplementary to our (your) efforts. Strange procedure. Chris.” (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Secretary: Records of Warren Christopher, 1977–1980, Lot 81D113, Box 8, Memoranda from WC to Bureaus—1978) Derian, in a February 28 memorandum to Christopher, indicated that she agreed with Vance’s response (see Document 121) and commented that she preferred “continued discussion and refinement of your clearinghouse idea.” (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Secretary: Records of Warren Christopher, 1977–1980, Lot 81D113, Withdrawn Material, RC #1126, Box 9 of 13)
  3. Reference is to Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s syndicated newspaper comic strip “Doonesbury.”
  4. On February 13, Christopher addressed the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in New Orleans. After providing an overview of human rights accomplishments and detailing some of the public efforts undertaken by the administration, Christopher broached the idea of a human rights database: “What is needed is an objective, widely respected clearinghouse for human rights information on all countries of the world. This would be an important resource for us and others interested in taking human rights conditions in other countries into account in policymaking. It would thus both inform our decisions and authenticate the existence and severity of human rights problems.” (Department of State Bulletin, March 1978, p. 31) The full text of Christopher’s speech is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy.