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An important improvement in this year's Reports was the separate treatment of freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and freedom of religion. These were somewhat unnaturally lumped together in previous years; they certainly deserve separate attention. There also seems to be greater realization in this Report that a law supporting a particular human right is of little significance without behavior signifying acceptance of the right. The Reports still do not consistently notice the distinction.
In spite of steady improvement, the Reports remain far from perfect. Most of their defects proceed directly from First, the effort to be timely forces a schedule on a complicated project. This leads to inevitable inconsistencies, repetitions, and some lack of comparability between reports. More serious has been the tendency of all Reports to put the best light possible on the human rights records of all countries with which the United States has friendly relations. The State Department and our foreign representatives must maintain good relations with such states to insure access. The resulting self-censorship by the authors of many reports is similar to that So often noted for academics, journalists, or businessmen whose interests and even life-work become identified with parti
The problem is insolvable but can be alle
viated in part by fullness of reporting; longer Country Reports certainly help, for in this context details rather than generalizations are more likely to portray reality than a collection of well-balanced generalizations.
In spite of understanding the reason for the self-censoring, relativistic tone of the Country Reports, perhaps we should consider a few examples of descriptions that one without the responsibilities of the State Department might have handled differently.
We learn more about the human rights situation France in the 1982 Report than in previous years. Nevertheless the reader would still have little appreciation for the level of direct and indirect controls over the press that are traditional in France. For example, there are occasional suppressions of publications or dissenters at the behest of foreign governments. Nor would the reader realize the tendency to swing from rightist- to leftist-slanted broadcasting with changes in government. Many commentators would certainly disagree with the Report's claim that such political control is not "significant." Americans certainly would not be comfortable with the partisan controls the French still apparently endure in spite of efforts at improvement. The problems of Malta are appropriately described in the Reports as more severe than those of France--here the problem of
government control of broadcasting is clearly
spelled out. Nevertheless, the situation is a good deal more difficult for the opposition than the Report suggests. For example, there is no discussion of the systematic destruction of the opposition party headquarters,
there mention of serious interference in the judiciary.
Sri Lanka's condition is described in extensive
tail. Yet the aseptic tone of the Report fails to alert the reader to: 1) the democratic impropriety of taking away the political rights of a previous prime minister through the use of a special commission appointed by the government that replaced her (this issue is buried in a discussion of the rights of women--which had nothing to do with the mission's findings), and 2) the unfairness of using a high point in the government's fortunes to push through by referendum an extension of the present parliament to 1989. The general tone of this very factual report is suggested by the following section on punishment, which I quote in full:
"Such brutality as may occur in Sri Lankan de-
"Prisons in Sri Lanka are both crowded and prim
itive; poor conditions
are a function of penal phi
losophy and a lack of funds." (Page 1271)
We are glad to learn that brutality in Sri Lanka is only an aspect of interrogation and that poor jail conditions are explained by their adminstrators' philosophy.
More examples could be cited. for example, a little discouraged to find that as in previous years the State Department is busy explaining to the reader the redeeming features of slavery in Mauritania. We are still told that slave owners "provide food and clothing and sometimes guarantee employment," and learn that "Many Moors fear that (the end of slavery) will cause economic hardship and serve as a catalyst for the overthrow of other traditional institutions." (Page 204)
Turning away from the specifics of the
out the connection of
Country Reports, I find the Introduction again excellent. It points the human rights effort to American tradition and the way the development of human rights is threatened by the development of Soviet power. Certainly to the degree that Soviet power or the Marxist-Leninist model of governance is extended in the world, to that degree hope for the expansion of individual or group rights against the state must be indefinitely postponed. Such an extension
the preservation of such rights in the esta
blished democracies. The Introduction also points to the importance of looking behind day-to-day events to consider the institutions that support or fail to support human rights. Without understanding the institutional and cultural context a too rapid or undisciplined attempt to achieve the full spectrum of human rights may lead to the creation of even worse conditions or institutions. This
was, for example, the result of the Iranian Revolution; it may well be the result of the overthrow of Somoza--certainly it already has been for several groups in that society. The Introduction points out how President Reagan's attempt to promote democracy fits in with the goals of any human rights policy because it emphasizes long-term institutional development rather than negative criticism. It relates the struggle for human rights to the degree of international institutionalization that has been attained by the European Commission on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, and more ephemerally by other international bodies.
However, two objections to the Introduction and the thinking behind it need to be made. The first objection is to a mode of expression. to say that human
It is excessive
rights are the "ultimate purpose" of our foreign policy (Page
Ultimately this statement wrong its enunciation has the
may be right, but right or
same risk of overselling that
in part undermined the effort of President Carter. In spite