STATE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
JANUARY 30, 1997
The U.S. State Department has just released its 20th annual survey of human rights practices in 193 nations, and there's bad news. Despite the spread of democracy, abuses appear on the rise. Margaret Warner discusses the report with John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
MARGARET WARNER: Today the State Department issued its 20th annual survey of human rights practices in 193 countries around the globe. The report said that despite the spread of democracy and the end of the Cold War, there seemed to be more human rights abuses than ever. Some of the strongest criticism was reserved for China and Cuba, but American allies, such as Turkey, Israel, and Indonesia, also were targeted for alleged abuses. With us now is the State Department's point man for human rights, Assistant Secretary John Shattuck. Welcome, Mr. Secretary.
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
JOHN SHATTUCK, Assistant Secretary of State: Thank you very much.
MARGARET WARNER: First explain to us what this human rights report really measures. When you go in to assess a country for human rights, what are you looking at?
JOHN SHATTUCK: This report looks at the human rights situation in 193 countries around the world in categories of civil and political rights but also rights involving discrimination, discrimination against women, discrimination against children. But perhaps first and foremost, we're looking for issues of killings and government involvement in those issues. We're looking at torture. We're looking at freedom of expression, and the basic underpinnings of civil and political rights that are recognized in the universal declaration of human rights. These are the fundamental elements, and they're looked at for 193 countries, and I might add that the United States, itself, has reported to the U.N. on its own human rights situation in this administration for the first time. So this is not simply an assessment of the world. In a separate report we've reported on our human rights situation.
MARGARET WARNER: So in this report what would you say is the biggest disappointment?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, I think we see continuing repression of basic civil and political rights in a number of countries, and in some cases really stepped up. Certainly in China, we've seen this year that all public dissent has been silenced. We have also seen in Burma that a continuing rolling repression of the democratic process in Burma and the isolation of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma. We also see situations in Nigeria of continuing pressure on basic human rights and civil rights in that country. There are a number of instances of that kind.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in China, as you said, I mean, all dissidents have been exiled or jailed, no dissident activity, not even a Soviet Union after Stalin managed to achieve that. How do you explain it?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, let me say that China is extremely complex. At the same time that you have this tremendous crackdown on political dissent, you also have some longer-term developments in legal reform, for example, in the new criminal procedure law that was adopted in China this year. You also have some developments at the local level involving village elections. But the bottom line is that the central government has decided that it will not put up with basic dissent, and that, of course, is a fundamental violation of the human rights of Chinese citizens.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what does that say about the theory that I think we've all operated under that with--with economic or market reforms and freedoms, that those lead ultimately to political freedom, say as they did in South Korea, that--the theory being that a middle class develops and that the middle class demands political and personal freedom?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, I think what we see is that economic change, including the opening of market economies, can have a positive influence and I would even say in China is having some influence on human rights. But that is not enough. Basic political and civil rights are ultimately at--require more active engagement and more involvement by the government and more recognition by the government is not simply an automatic process whereby economic growth necessarily brings about political change.
MARGARET WARNER: The president earlier this week in his press conference conceded or acknowledged that the U.S. policy towards China of constructive engagement, jawboning about human rights but not holding everything else hostage to human rights, hadn't produced the desired effect. Do you think it's time to re-examine that policy?
JOHN SHATTUCK: I think the policy has to be looked at in a very long-term process. We know that China isolated is not going to improve the human rights situation. Chinese dissidents, both here and in the United--and in China would take that position. We know from history that an isolated China was what produced the cultural revolution which was so damaging to human rights in China. We also want to promote a more open China, and the best way to do that is to engage with China and to involve the Chinese citizens in exchanges, as well as a very active and aggressive and clear human rights policy that is expressed to the Chinese leadership again and again by the United States from the president on down. And that is what we're doing.
MARGARET WARNER: Now in the rest of Asia where there has been some resistance to what they see as--the imposition of these western values, what would you say are the brightest spot and the dimmest spot in the rest of Asia?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, these comparative approaches don't necessarily get us very far, but we certainly see democracy and human rights developing in other parts of Asia. In Mongolia, which of course is between China and Russia, we've had an outbreak of wonderful outpouring of democracy. In South Korea, some advances, and certainly we've seen elsewhere in Thailand and other parts and Cambodia elections have taken place, so the process of democracy and human rights is marching forward in Asia, and I would argue that there is a tremendous grassroots, global movement for human rights and democracy which is reflected in Asia and every other part of the world even as these abuses occur at the hands of government. There are people all over the world who are trying to advance human rights, and it's for them that these reports are written, and that is to keep faith with this movement as it marches forward.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And staying with Asia for a minute, you mentioned Burma as a place where things aren't getting better but getting worse. What can the U.S. do about that?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, the U.S. has made very clear to the Burmese government that if it wants anything like a better relationship with the United States it has got to enter into dialogue with Ung Sung Suchi and the forces of democracy. The U.S. has imposed arms restrictions, has had trade restrictions in the area of generalized system of preferences on Burma. We have imposed visa restrictions on the government of Burma, and there is active, very active consideration being given now to additional sanctions being imposed on Burma that doesn't recognize the democratic forces.
MARGARET WARNER: Like what?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, the legislation that was enacted in the Congress last year authorized the president to impose additional investment restrictions on new investment. And that's under very active consideration right now.
MARGARET WARNER: And how soon would you expect a decision?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, I think it's, as I say, very actively being considered. I think at any point there could be a decision.
MARGARET WARNER: What is the record, do you think, of really how effective actions by outside governments such as the United States are, whether it's through sanctions or through jawboning, what impact they really have on another government's internal--the way they relate to their populations, is what we're really talking about.
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, I think we see some examples of a tremendous success when a very large number of countries in the world get together and make clear that a particular practice in the community in one country is unacceptable. South Africa and apartheid is probably the paramount example where trade sanctions in that country imposed by a very broad coalition of governments made a difference. But I want to make it clear that sanctions and negative approaches to this are by no means what the United States focuses primarily on.
We want to assist, build new institutions. We focused on the development of international tribunals to try cases of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda. We've helped developed field operations for the United Nations that can monitor human rights situations. And so the affirmative assistance that we provide in these areas--we also support many non-governmental organizations. I think it's a very important instrument of advancing human rights.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, now one of the countries where we've tried those kinds of measures and jawboning and encouragement has been Turkey, an ally of ours, a NATO member. We're trying to get the European Union to let Turkey in, and yet, that's a place you say your report finds there's been deterioration this year. How do you explain that?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, I think Turkey is, as you say, an ally of the United States, but these reports are very candid, and they make very clear when there are problems. And I think the debate that is going on in Turkey on the subject of human rights is a very healthy one. The United States has not hesitated to raise lots of particular cases and to address the crackdown on the press and the crackdown on civilian populations in the Southeast of Turkey. We want to encourage Turkey to become a secular democracy that is oriented toward Europe.
MARGARET WARNER: But we wouldn't--would we ever really consider punitive sanctions against Turkey?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, we have a policy, for example, that restricts small arms and crowd control devices and other armaments that might impact on the human rights situation, while at the same time continuing to work with Turkey as a NATO ally.
MARGARET WARNER: As I know you're aware, the U.S. Government--critics of the U.S. Government, such as say Human Rights Watch, say that there really is a double standard here; that when it comes to Iran, Iraq, Cuba, we do slap--the U.S. Government slaps sanctions on them, uses the human rights record as one reason, but when it comes to allies or countries we need the relationship, whether it's Saudi Arabia or Russia or China, we don't. I mean, is there a double standard?
JOHN SHATTUCK: No. There's no double standard. There is no one-size-fits-all human rights policy, and every country in the world, of course, is different, and what we want to do, wherever possible, is to work with countries and work with many groups of countries to improve the overall situation in human rights. If a country is willing to engage with us on these subjects, then sanctions are inappropriate, to be sure, and indeed, we would then develop a much stronger relationship with that country, and yet, there are countries like Iran and Iraq and other countries that do not want to work on these subjects, and, therefore, isolation is appropriate.
MARGARET WARNER: So if we were sitting here a year from now and you're presenting your next report, where do you think is the greatest likelihood, not hope but likelihood of measurable progress?
JOHN SHATTUCK: Well, I think there's also been a great deal of progress even this year. I would say the most difficult but challenging and in many ways hopeful areas are the ones that are places that we've concentrated on like Bosnia, like Haiti. I would expect additional progress to be seen in Central and Eastern Europe. We saw this year a tremendous amount of progress in those countries, particularly in Hungary and Rumania and the Czech Republic, which all worked out arrangements on minority rights protection. I think we would expect to see the forces of democracy to achieve some success, continuing success in many parts of Africa.
We've seen some of the most quiet advances this year in places like Sierra Leone and Mali. We look for more progress in those areas. But let me say one last thing about the report, which is that it is intended to shine a spotlight on abuses so that they are not forgotten. Because if those abuses were forgotten, then the forces of human rights and democracy would not be able to advance.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary.
JOHN SHATTUCK: Thank you.