9. Action Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) to Secretary of State Vance 1

Human Rights

Issue for Decision

Interest in human rights continues to grow. A PRM on human rights may result from an interagency meeting convened by the NSC, February 2.2 Brzezinski’s stress there on finding a “constructive way to infuse human rights into foreign policy” reflects a gathering belief that one of the main questions before the Carter Administration is, not whether we will help promote human rights, but how. This memorandum thus suggests both short- and longer-term measures for implementing the President’s commitment to internationally recognized human rights.


The Administration’s strong interest in human rights is clear. The President’s statements on this subject reflect the expressed will of the Congress, specific US endorsement of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the belief that there is a connection between what we believe at home and what we do abroad.

How to act on the President’s statements is, of course, less clear. Implementation depends on our designing an overall strategy—with a coherent set of goals, sense of priorities, and assessment of US leverage. The State Department now lacks such a strategy. Attempts to deal with pending problems are often uncoordinated. There is no focal point for considering future initiatives or establishing a general context that could reduce the need for tough decisions in other areas under crisis conditions.

Several approaches (singly or in combination) could help:

1. Agenda for immediate consideration. Although we would caution against rushing into word or deed without more careful review of our overall objectives in human rights, there are some steps that could be taken quickly. Such measures could give immediate substance to state[Page 27]ments from the Carter Administration without constraining later choices. Among items for your priority consideration are the following:

a. Expedited announcement of well-known and well-qualified coordinator for the human rights office (D/HA). The authority of that person and his/her access to you would be a useful signal to the Congress and elsewhere and a needed channel for in-house decision-making.

b. Authorization for the Deputy Secretary to establish an ad hoc Human Rights Coordinating Group, administered by D/HA and to include, as appropriate, representatives from P, T, L, H, S/P, IO, PM, EB, and the regional bureaus—initially at the Deputy/Assistant Secretary level. Such a mechanism could help assure Department-wide consensus and coordination on cross-cutting issues in the human rights area. Among matters for immediate attention: the security assistance package due for Presidential decision next week, votes this month in the Inter-American Development Bank, agreement on general guidelines for press inquiries, and reference to human rights in PRM’s and other interagency exercises.

c. Recommendation that the President declare US intention to sign UN human rights covenants. Since the President is already on record in behalf of ratifying the genocide convention, the convention against racial discrimination, and the two covenants on political and economic rights,3 and since the next session of the UN Human Rights Commission convenes February 7, the time may be ripe for the State Department to support a Presidential push for ratification of all four. Although L’s study on this subject is not finished, preliminary findings suggest that we could defuse Congressional opposition by indicating that we would accompany signature and ratification with appropriate reservations and statements of understanding on points where there is incompatibility between these instruments and the Constitution and relevant US legislation and court decisions.

d. Action on bilateral issues. The Department will be under increased pressure from the Congress (most predictably, in upcoming hearings before the Humphrey Subcommittee)4 to explain how we factored human rights into our positions on security assistance. Given the imminence of a Presidential decision on the security assistance package next week, we should urgently consider our public position on the human rights aspects of the package and how decisions on individual countries could be best communicated, perhaps by the Deputy Secretary, to the countries concerned and to the Congress. There will also be several Harkin Amendment votes this month in the Inter-American Develop[Page 28]ment Bank5 which could involve comparably difficult decisions and similar needs for communication.

e. Consultations with the Congress. You could talk with several leading Congressional advocates of human rights—both in the near future and after the completion of the Department’s overall review of human rights policy. In your early meetings with such Hill representatives, you could seek out their views, promise close cooperation, and report on the first steps taken by this Administration. Other Department officers could meet with members of Congress and staff to seek ideas for our own policy review.

2. Development of longer-term strategy. Although we do not advocate prolonged study, we do see value in putting specific decisions into a larger and more balanced context. We believe that either State Department studies or any possible PRM’s on human rights should avoid precipitate recommendations and instead stress formulation of a more general framework for US decisions. We therefore suggest consideration of the following:

a. Formulation of overall policy strategy. Such an exercise should include general principles, factors to be considered on a case-by-case basis, the range of available responses, potential risks and/or limits to human rights initiatives, and elements of a proposed strategy. (See Tab A for draft S/P outline for human rights strategy paper.) S/P could take the lead on this exercise, in conjunction with D/HA and the relevant bureaus. An initial draft could be available for review by the Deputy Secretary this month.

b. Statement of criteria for implementation of human rights provisions in current legislation. Because there is so much confusion about what constitutes a “consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” (basis for decisions on US economic assistance, security assistance, and loans to some international financial organizations), the Department of State, in consultation with the Congress, should try to clarify criteria so that we can be more responsive, both to the Hill and overall US foreign policy objectives. S/P, in consultation with D/HA, has taken a preliminary cut at this problem (see Tab B).6 We could refine a draft for review by the Deputy Secretary.

c. Drafting and coordination of bureau strategy papers. Papers, to be done in parallel with the above, could help provide balance between, on the one hand, stress on human rights and Congressional concerns and, on the other, broader regional/functional foreign policy concerns. They should concentrate on identifying those national governments

[Page 29]

permitting or perpetrating a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, suggesting what US actions could help or hurt the situation, and how such actions might affect other US national interests.

d. Proposal for Presidential attention. At some later point, you may want to encourage the President to complement his already considerable support for human rights with such initiatives as a major foreign policy address (dealing entirely or in part with human rights) or a well publicized meeting with outside spokesmen/experts on this subject.

e. High-level speech on human rights. In the not-too-distant future, you could make a speech or present a statement before the Humphrey hearings in early March.7

f. Consideration of change in current legislation. Working together with the Congress on promotion of human rights may lead to opportunities to amend some current legislation which either does not serve the intended purpose of furthering human rights or runs counter to other foreign policy objectives—or both. In addition, we may find more ways to shift from legislation with a punitive cast to more positive measures that reward nations improving their observance of human rights.

Recommendations for Action

1. Authorize the Deputy Secretary to establish an ad hoc Human Rights Coordinating Group, as described above.8

2. Instruct the Deputy Secretary, with or without the Coordinating Group, to consider the action items noted above.

3. Mandate S/P, together with D/HA and other interested bureaus, to draft (as per above and Tabs A and B):

a. overall strategy paper;

b. guidelines for implementation of human rights provisions in current legislation.

4. Sign the memorandum on human rights at Tab C.9 Attached for your information at Tab D are the instructions on regional strategy papers on human rights to be issued by the Executive Secretary.10

[Page 30]

Tab A

Paper Prepared by the Policy Planning Staff 11

Draft Outline for A Human Rights Strategy for the United States


I. Justification for a Human Rights Policy

A. Moral reasons

B. Legal justifications

C. Political advantages

II. General Implementation Principles

A. Posture of general concern re all human rights violations on a universal basis and of special concern re gross violations

B. Need for long-range objective of gradual raising of world standards

C. Avoidance of tone or implications of US moral arrogance

D. Realization of the complexities of issues involved and need for careful and coordinated handling of all responses

E. Impossibility of uniform, automatic responses to specific violations and consequent need for case-by-case responses

F. Need for common and coordinated approach of all relevant elements of US Government

G. Need to establish credibility with US Congress and public for the Administration’s efforts

H. Preference, wherever possible and appropriate, for multilateral and cooperative international and regional efforts

III. Factors to be Considered in Each Case

A. Factors relating to the human rights situation itself

1. Nature and extent of violations

2. Level of political development

3. Direction of human rights trend

4. Degree of governmental control and responsibility for violations

5. Validity of internal and external security justifications

[Page 31]

B. Other factors affecting potential US response

1. Range and significance of other US national interests involved

2. Nature of US association with regime

3. Degree of estimated US influence on human rights behavior of regime

4. Attitude of internal democratic opposition, if any, and of potential alternative political leaders to any particular US response

5. Degree of US Congressional, media and public interest in situation

6. Attitudes and roles of other governments

7. Estimate of likely consequences of any US response in terms of human rights conditions and of other US interests

C. Regional factors

1. In Latin America

a. Historic sensitivity to US penchant for interventionism

b. Need for balanced approach to regimes of different political and ideological orientations

2. In Africa

a. Overriding interest of countries in racial issues

b. Sensitivity of leaders to any statement or action which may appear to have colonial overtones

3. In Soviet Bloc

a. Potential impact of US response on issues of world peace

b. Potential impact on Eastern European volatilities

c. CSCE considerations

4. In East Asia

a. External and internal security factors

b. Current intractability of communist regimes

5. In Near East and South Asia

a. Problem of even-handedness among traditional adversaries

b. Impact on oil supplies

IV. Choice of Available Responses

A. What are the objectives of any US response?

1. To help individual victims?

2. To raise general human rights standards in a country?

3. To dissociate the US from repressive policies and regimes?

4. Or some mix of the above?

:s100/98 B. Choice of appropriate responses from a range of options between:

1. quiet diplomacy and publicized approaches or statements

2. symbolic acts/statements and substantive measures

[Page 32]

3. negative measures and positive statements or moves to encourage favorable trends

4. multilateral and bilateral approaches

V. Potential Risks in Human Rights Policy

A. Possible consequences of impinging on sovereignty sensitivities of individual countries

1. Strained US relations with regime leaders, with possible negative impact on other US national interests

2. Opportunities for regime leaders to arouse popular nationalistic support for resistance to foreign interference

3. Possible counterproductive results of US response leading to more severe repression

B. Possible negative consequences for human rights efforts generally

1. Widespread loss of faith in human rights efforts if expectations are raised too high in this relatively intractable area and results are meager

2. Loss of impact of public statements if employed too frequently, with the US ultimately ignored as a tiresome (and ineffective) international scold

3. Danger that authoritarian regimes in a region, or around the world, will join forces, especially at the UN and OAS, to resist large-scale, across-the-board human rights campaign

4. Inhibiting effect on whole effort if one or two major fiascos occur—such as replacement of authoritarian regime by one more repressive following US criticism

C. Problem of inconsistencies in US responses

1. Likely pressure for US to be obviously even-handed in treatment of human rights violations in strong and in weak countries, in left and in right regimes, in allied and in adversary states

2. Difficulty of demonstrating even-handedness if quiet diplomacy is used in some cases and publicized approach is used in others of an apparently similar nature

3. Use of argument about inevitable inconsistencies (“lack of balance,” “double standard”) as excuse for US not taking action in this field at all

D. Risks of inaction

1. Continued erosion of politically valuable US image as supporter of freedom everywhere

2. Injury to US interests and loss of US influence in a country whenever its authoritarian regime, with which the US is identified, is swept away

3. Loss of opportunities to identify with future leadership elements in many countries

4. Weakened US posture in ideological contest with totalitarian adversaries

[Page 33]

5. Prospect of growing preponderance of nations in the world that do not share our values and consequent danger to our own values at home if we fail to oppose this trend

6. Loss of US public and media support for US foreign policy

7. Continued loss of Executive Branch initiative to Congress on important aspects of foreign policy


I. Procedural Steps

A. Development and approval of a carefully considered strategy and detailed plans to implement a more vigorous national policy to advance human rights around the world, including special implementing strategies for each geographic region to take common regional factors into account

B. Public announcement and clarification of US policies in statements that establish a general US posture of concern for human rights, but which present some of the complexities involved, which avoid raising unrealistic expectations and which allay fears that we are embarked on a crusade to drastically alter or topple 100-odd governments around the world

C. Common and coordinated line on human rights by all US agencies operating overseas so that diplomatic efforts of US missions are not undermined by contrary signals from other US sources; reexamination of US contacts with repressive internal security elements abroad and their implications for human rights

D. Establishment with Congress of Department’s credibility on human rights policy to permit Executive Branch to regain initiative in this field and to have more flexibility on use of levers such as aid and arms policies, public reporting on human rights conditions, and voting in international financial institutions, all of which are now mandated by the Congress

E. Establishment in Department of procedure for making recommendations to Secretary on major decisions on human rights issues, whether in bilateral context or in multilateral framework so that impact on all Departmental elements can be carefully weighed—including P, T, Regional bureaus, L, H, D/HA, S/P, IO, PM, and AID

F. Internal Departmental information program to clarify role of missions in human rights efforts and to train junior and mid-career officers to understand complexities

G. Initiation of needed studies to analyze usefulness of various diplomatic tactics, symbolic gestures, substantive actions and multilateral approaches in achieving favorable results

II. Substantive Measures

A. Steps to put our own house in order by moving forward on ratification of pending UN covenants, by legislating more generous ref[Page 34]ugee, asylum and visa policies, and by making more emphatic representations on behalf of US citizens adversely affected by repressive measures abroad

B. Employment generally of unpublicized diplomatic approaches in dealing with human rights problems and development of procedures and tactics which make such diplomatic efforts as effective as possible

C. Selection of, and concentration on, a limited number of “worst” cases—perhaps one or two in a region—on which to focus in the hope of gathering the largest possible number of allies, including milder authoritarian regimes in the “Third World,” in a common attempt to raise international standards gradually from the current “bottom” of official murder and torture. Such an effort might typically have two phases:

1. Intensive discussions with “target” regimes to press for improvements in their practices, and clarification, wherever appropriate and possible, of the minimum steps that are sought from them if they are to get off the hook (to reduce the paranoia and sense of siege which dominate some of them and motivate their extreme measures)

2. If such tactics fail, shift to public statements and other more intensive measures, both to bring added pressure and to dissociate US clearly from a repressive regime

D. Employment of diplomatic style that reduces symbols of US embrace of authoritarian regimes and serves to communicate various degrees of disapproval of repressive measures and appropriate degrees of detachment from repressive regimes

E. Promotion of positive short-range programs to applaud and encourage favorable human rights trends and long-range technical assistance and cultural exchange programs to help foster growth of political institutions and practices that favor protection of individual rights

F. Strengthening of US role in international bodies dealing with human rights, use of multilateral approaches to human rights situations in individual countries, and enlistment of help of like-minded countries in bringing pressure to bear on human rights violators wherever the indications are this tactic might be effective

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770038–0003. Confidential. Sent through Christopher. Drafted by Vogelgesang. Another copy is in the National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director, Records of Anthony Lake, 1977–1981, Lot 82D298, TL 2/1–15/77. Ortiz initialed the memorandum and wrote: “2–11.”
  2. See Document 7.
  3. See footnotes 7 and 8, Document 4.
  4. Reference is to the Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Humphrey.
  5. See footnote 10, Document 4.
  6. Printed as the attachment to Document 1.
  7. In a February 9 action memorandum to Christopher, Jenkins proposed that Christopher testify before the Humphrey subcommittee, 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) For Christopher’s March 7 subcommittee testimony, see Department of State Bulletin, March 28, 1977, pp. 289–291 or Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 95th Congress, First Session on Human Rights Issues and Their Relationship to Foreign Assistance Programs, March 4 and 7, 1977, pp. 62–69.
  8. Vance’s special assistant Jacklyn Cahill initialed Vance’s approval of all four recommendations on February 11.
  9. Attached and printed as Document 14.
  10. Attached and printed as Document 15.
  11. No classification marking. Drafted by Sirkin on February 2.