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62. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (Bennet) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher)1


  • Congressional Strategy on Human Rights

Human rights represents the Carter Administration’s most dramatic foreign policy departure. Sustaining this leadership will require a strong constituency on Capitol Hill which understands and supports the Administration’s efforts and opposes excessively specific legislation. We are fast approaching the time when general statements of support for human rights will not be accepted as a comprehensive policy, and our credibility will be brought into question. We must be in a position to explain each specific human rights-related action as fully as possible in terms of country-by-country plans.

I. Ongoing Human Rights Issues

1. International Financial Institutions

As you know, we have been trying to shape acceptable language which will permit us to deal with human rights concerns in the IFIs without harming their overall structure.2 We may succeed this year in avoiding language mandating a negative vote on human rights offender countries.

ACTION: We must demonstrate that we will use our voice and vote in a consistent manner in the IFIs to gain the credibility to protect the IFIs from further attacks in the future.

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2. Security Assistance

The Authorization Bill will be through both Houses by the end of June, and the main shape of the Appropriation Bill has already been drawn. This legislation came upon us too quickly this year and our efforts to deal with it have been very much of a fire-fighting operation.3 Our policy guidelines on how we were to apply the 502(b) human rights provision were unclear, especially in Latin America, and this, coupled with the momentum for human rights in Congress, has caused cuts in programs for Latin American countries. In Asia, however, where our policy toward Korea, Philippines, and Indonesia is clearer, we have been able to gain the Congress’ trust for the time being.

ACTION: We should start planning now for what we will be presenting to Congress for FY 79. Human rights offender countries in which we have no security interest will find themselves under heavy attack not only on grant MAP but also on FMS credit and training next year unless we can demonstrate that progress has been achieved in human rights and we convince the Congress that our efforts bring results. The most vulnerable will be offenders in Latin America (including Argentina, Brazil, etc.) and Indonesia and Thailand.

3. Economic Assistance

Congress this year, with AID’s agreement, has tightened the human rights reporting requirements for bilateral economic aid. This is our first concrete signal that Congress plans to pay far greater attention to bilateral economic assistance in the future. To date, efforts to cut economic aid have not been supported by the liberals as long as the aid is for the needy.

ACTION: We can expect far greater attention next year, however, to the needy criterion which AID has applied rather loosely. The warning signs are also flying that for gross violators even economic programs may not be exempt. AID’s review of the total U.S. AID effort, due August 15, must deal thoroughly with human rights considerations, particularly if the Administration is to achieve increases in total U.S. assistance.

4. UN Covenants

The President has made four UN covenants an important part of his overall human rights initiative. We are moving ahead energetically on the Genocide Convention and would hope to see a vote on the measure prior to the end of this session. We are currently trying to ascertain whether we have the votes to ratify the Convention and we expect to be [Page 198]ready to make that determination in the next two or three weeks.4 The SFRC will consider the Convention in executive session on June 21, and may report it to the floor at that time. Majority Leader Byrd is expected to hold up consideration of the Treaty until we can assure him that we have the votes to (1) invoke cloture and (2) ratify the Convention.

The President has given his personal endorsement to three other human rights treaties in his speech before the United Nations on March 17. No decision has yet been made as to when to forward these covenants to the Senate. There is some thought being given to signing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the United Nations when the General Assembly convenes in September. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was signed by the United States in 1966, but Senate approval was not sought by previous Administrations and it has yet to be transmitted to the Senate. Final decisions as to the wording of reservations to these covenants have not been made.

The President personally signed the American Convention on Human Rights at the Organization of American States headquarters several weeks ago.5 Preliminary work has begun on reservations to this Convention and a number of legal implications are being analyzed. One controversial provision of the Convention is a ban on abortion.

ACTION: H feels that a major effort should be made to gain Senate approval of the Genocide Convention during this session. We should be in a better position to determine whether we can move quickly on this Convention within the next few weeks. We do not expect any serious consideration of the other conventions during this session, but the Administration should be prepared to submit them in the fall.

5. Problem Countries

a. Korea—Our policy toward Korean human rights is well understood on the Hill and our determination to withdraw troops6 has disarmed those who would like to attack our security assistance program—i.e. Don Fraser. Troop withdrawals and the security of Korea are at present of more concern on the Hill than human rights. We can assume, however, that once anxiety over troop withdrawals dies down, human rights considerations will come to the fore again.

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b. Philippines—Major efforts by EA in both the House and the Senate this year have saved our Philippine military assistance program from significant cuts on human rights grounds.7 Unless there is major progress in the human rights situation, we can expect further attacks next year against the Philippine program and against any base agreement which requires congressional approval of funds.

c. Indonesia/Thailand—These are the most vulnerable countries in East Asia as the U.S. has no major security interests in either country. EA has done a good job this year of explaining our position on human rights in both countries. Some improvements in the human rights field must occur if we hope to continue to preserve our security relationships.

d. Latin America—Unless there are major human rights improvements in most of the Latin American offender countries in the coming months, we will probably see the end of all forms of military assistance to these countries in FY 79. The principal targets this year have been Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Nicaragua and San Salvador. However, we can assume that Paraguay and Haiti, and perhaps Guatemala, will join the list next year. ARA must begin now to develop a more finely tuned and credible human rights policy towards security assistance in all recipient countries. One option would be to eliminate all military assistance in Latin America, with the exception of modest training programs.

e. Africa—Congress still has a certain myopia as far as African human rights are concerned, and this has protected Africa from the sort of attack faced in Latin America. The questions of Rhodesia, South Africa and Namibia are the main ones as far as Congress is concerned at the moment. We should expect increasing attention to human rights conditions in other parts of Africa.

f. Iran/Israel—Congress has avoided these two topics. We should press ahead with efforts in both countries so that we are in a good position to show that we have made real efforts should trouble arise.

6. U.S. Human Rights—Visa Policy

There are pending in the White House several proposals to liberalize our visa policy.

The President has not decided which option to accept but is understood to be leaning toward the McGovern amendment which would [Page 200]remove the Secretary from the decision process in requesting from the Attorney General waivers of ineligibility for aliens excludable under the Immigration Act because of political affiliation.8 A decision on this matter awaits consultation with the two Judiciary Committee Chairmen, Rodino and Eastland, by the Secretary and the Attorney General.

Regarding expanded refugee and asylum policies, the Eilberg legislation includes an expanded definition of refugees which the Administration supported, but the bill effectively eliminates the parole authority and requires mandatory consultation for the admission of refugees by class.9

Administratively, we are expanding our program for African refugees with enlarged assistance in the educational field.

II. Techniques for Dealing with Congress

1. Have Clear Positions on Specific Issues

As a basis for orderly policy and rational presentation to Congress, we must develop clear policy lines which combine general objectives and specific courses of action for each human rights issue and each country which violates human rights. We are in the early stages of such a policy development process. It should be completed as soon as possible and implemented before we begin the next round of authorization and appropriation battles early next year. This will make our job with Congress much easier. As we take our positions to Congress on each substantive issue which arises (for instance, amendments to IFI legislation) talking points should be drawn up and given wide distribution. Consideration should be given to the issuance of an Administration policy statement or letter on the issue which can then be used as the basis for calls on individual Congressmen by high and mid-level officers from concerned government organizations. Leaders of various interested groups on the Hill should be contacted and offered briefings [Page 201]on the various issues and problem countries at their convenience. This activity should be done on a routine, ongoing basis so that information flow becomes normal and is not seen as a one-time blitz on some particular special interest. We have begun doing this on some of our current issues but it has been on an ad hoc basis. We hope to regularize this in the future but it will mean earlier identification of problem areas and development of clear policy directions.

2. Regular Bureau Contacts with Congress

The bulk of H’s time in human rights questions is spent dealing with major bills on the Hill or fore-fighting human rights problems related to countries such as Korea, Argentina or Iran. We believe the Department’s credibility on human rights and other matters could be built up through some direct contact by substantive regional and desk officers with Congressmen interested in their areas. Special efforts should be made to keep Members informed on human rights questions. Strengthening of informal contacts at the desk levels would give working-level FSOs an exposure to Hill thinking and develop relationships of trust which might head off problems before they occur.

3. Contacts with Non-Governmental Agencies

H agrees that we should develop our relationship with the interested Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs) which can be of immense help to us with their influence in the Congress. (It should be kept in mind, however, that we sometimes find ourselves differing with these groups on matters of substance.) D/HA already meets with these groups frequently and on a regular basis. H feels that rather than duplicating D/HA’s work we should tag on to some of their activities. We are in the process of coordinating this with D/HA now.

4. SCA Matters

In order to keep the human rights coordinating group fully informed of legislation on visa, refugee and asylum problems, H feels it might be worthwhile to institute a brief monthly report on ongoing efforts in this field. This would be in addition to the normal coordination which occurs daily.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770115–0474. Confidential. Drafted by Swift. Wisner initialed the memorandum on June 18. Additional notations read: “WC” and “Copy to SO.” Christopher also initialed the memorandum.
  2. Reference is to the pending IFI authorization bill (see Document 35). On June 14, the Senate passed H.R. 5262, whereupon House and Senate conferees began drafting compromise language. (Congress and the Nation, Volume V, 1977–1980, pp. 42–44) During the Senate debate over H.R. 5262, Humphrey challenged an amendment introduced by Hatfield and Abourezk, which was based on the Harkin–Badillo language, asserting that its rigidity “would be of less real use” than the more flexible language adopted by the SFRC during its markup session. The Senate did approve an amendment on June 14, sponsored by Dole, which directed U.S. representatives to the IFIs to vote against any aid to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. (Spencer Rich, “Hill Steps Into Human Rights Debate,” The Washington Post, June 15, 1977, p. A–12)
  3. See footnote 9, Document 38.
  4. See Document 57 and footnote 2 thereto.
  5. See Document 47 and footnote 8 thereto.
  6. Reference is to the President’s decision to withdraw 33,000 U.S. Army troops from South Korea beginning in 1978 and concluding in 1982 or 1983. On May 11, the Department of State announced that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General George Brown and Habib would fly to Seoul on May 24 to engage in talks with South Korean officials. (Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. and Seoul to Start Discussion Of Troop Pullout Late This Month,” The New York Times, p. 4)
  7. See footnote 17, Document 38. While registering the administration’s concern for human rights abuses in the Philippines, Holbrooke asserted: “However, we don’t believe that security or economic assistance should be reduced because of the human rights problem. As I have noted, the Philippines has strategic importance, not only for our own country but also for nations friendly to the United States in the region, and thus we should continue our support.” (Department of State Bulletin, April 4, 1977, p. 326)
  8. The Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 1978 (H.R. 6689; P.L. 95–105; 91 Stat. 844–866), which the President signed into law on August 17, 1977, contained the McGovern amendment, which sought to relax visa provisions for non-immigrant visitors. In late August, the Department of State announced that an official of the French General Confederation of Labor, which had been described as Communist-run, had been granted a visa to attend an American labor conference scheduled to take place in New York in September. (Graham Hovey, “French Labor Leader is Granted U.S. Visa,” The New York Times, August 27, 1977, p. 2)
  9. Reference is to H.R. 7175, introduced in the House by Eilberg on May 13, which sought to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (P.L. 89–236). Public Law 89–236, also known as the Hart–Cellar Act after Senator Philip Hart (D–Michigan) and Representative Emmanuel Cellar (D–New York), abolished the national origins quota system established by the Immigration Act of 1924 and overturned many of the restrictions contained within the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (McCarran-Walter Act, P.L. 82–414; 66 Stat. 163–282).