154. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Human Rights in Uganda

Despite low-key Administration efforts to warn about the dangers of imposing a trade embargo against Uganda because of human rights violations, the Senate voted 73 to 1 in favor of doing so last week. The amendment, which is on the IMF authorization bill, allows you to lift the embargo when you can certify that there is no longer a pattern of [Page 407] gross violations of human rights. The amendment amounts to a coffee embargo since more than 99 percent of U.S. imports from Uganda are coffee. The amendment exempts our agricultural exports, and we export little else to Uganda. Earlier, the House approved 377 to 0 a similar, though non-binding, resolution. We expect the bill to go to Conference this week. The Conference will take no more than a few days, and the bill should be on your desk in 2 to 3 weeks.2

It is possible (some would say probable) that Amin will react violently to the imposition of the embargo. He may threaten to, or actually, retaliate against the 200-odd Americans in Uganda. If he does, our ability to rescue Americans, who are scattered throughout the country, is quite limited.

Our choices are limited. They are:

1. Not to oppose the amendment openly in Conference, but privately warn the conferees that you think the amendment is ill-advised because it jeopardizes American lives. We cannot win, and action opposing it would cast doubt about your dedication to a human rights policy. (State and White House Congressional Liaison are in agreement on this.)

2. Couple private warnings with public statements expressing the hope that the situation in Uganda will improve and that the embargo is ill-advised. (Treasury would favor this approach because they are generally opposed to economic embargoes for political reasons.)

Making a protest for the record would lay the ground work for a signing statement which would point out that this is an example of the problems posed by Congressional interference in the day-to-day operation of foreign policy.

3. Of course, you could veto the bill. I would, however, strongly recommend against it because it might be misinterpreted as a defense of Amin and would certainly be overridden. In addition, a veto would be detrimental from the point of view of the IMF. If you are inclined to veto it, we should know now so that we can begin to establish a record which would clearly explain your reasons for doing so.


1. That the Administration not actively oppose the Uganda amendment but warn Members privately that the action is ill-advised.3

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2. That we prepare a signing statement pointing out that this is an example of the problems posed by Congressional interference in the day-to-day operation of foreign policy.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North-South, Funk Subject File, Box 116, Uganda: 4/77–3/80. Secret. Sent for action. Carter initialed “C” in the upper right corner.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 145.
  3. Carter checked the “Approve” option. Brzezinski wrote at the bottom of the page, “You might raise this at the Congressional breakfast.” Carter wrote “Will do.”
  4. There is no indication of approval or disapproval of the recommendation. Carter placed a question mark in the right margin.