13. Editorial Note

Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan called for a renewed emphasis on “the fundamental principles” of U.S. human rights policy in a statement released on October 17, 1980. Noting that representatives of 35 countries were in Madrid to prepare for a follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), Reagan acknowledged the importance of “the protection and enhancement of freedom and human rights for all,” yet asserted that “the United States will not succeed in its human rights policy unless we keep in mind that its guiding ideas must be uniquely American. These principles, of political and economic freedom, justice, equal protection, and fairness, which have inspired so many people, are rooted deep in our history.

“Indeed, it was these principles that helped guide our founding fathers as they led an infant country through revolution and to independence. It was these principles that are now embodied in our great freedom documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And it is these principles that have become, in my opinion, America’s greatest contribution to political thought and action throughout the world.”

The Jimmy Carter administration, Reagan asserted, had “never successfully used America’s invaluable philosophical resources,” and had failed to live up to its promise to prioritize human rights in a number of instances. After noting several such failures in the cases of the Soviet Union, Poland, Cambodia, and Iran, Reagan stated: “This is not a human rights policy. This is not in the tradition of America’s [Page 45] great freedom principles. Instead, this is gross hypocrisy—boasting of human rights at home while being intimidated by violators of human rights abroad.”

“To effectively fulfill the Helsinki Accords,” concluded by the CSCE in 1975, Reagan continued, “we need a vigorous and consistent human rights policy. Yet at the last review conference in 1977, the Carter administration, though speaking boldly to the public, spoke timidly to the Soviets. The signal must have been clear to the Soviet leaders: Carter’s human rights policy toward the Soviet empire and its captive nations was meant only for domestic political consumption.

“Perhaps the most important way to promote the cause of human rights is to spread the American message of freedom and hope abroad. We must break through the news blackout surrounding the oppressed peoples of the world, to tell them the truth about the American freedom values.

“Unfortunately, the Carter administration does not understand the power of this message. Its support for our cultural and informational programs has declined over the last four years, while the misinformation and propaganda programs of our adversaries have grown. Nor has it focused world attention on the flagrant violations of the Helsinki Accords by the Soviet Union, such as when the Soviet Union resumed jamming Voice of America radio broadcasts to prevent the peoples under its control from hearing of the courageous Polish workers and their struggle. America in effect ratified this blatant act of hypocrisy.

“We must continue to uphold the historical traditions of freedom and justice to which free people everywhere might look. The American human rights legacy should remain unconditional and consistent. The world expects—and deserves—no less.” (News release, October 17; Reagan Library, White House Office of Speechwriting, Research Office, 1980 Campaign File, Campaign and Pre-Presidential Speeches, 1979–1981, 10/17/1980 Statements on Human Rights and Helsinki Accords)