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Based on that factor, our final decision was yes, we would take a position that was alone. And it was alone; we voted no. We were also alone, I might point out, in terms of our initially saying we would not participate in a world conference on racism that equated Zionism and racism.
There are times when we are alone. The question Congressman Buchanan raised is a significant one and one that we should not dismiss. Does our being alone on certain issues destroy our effectiveness, or hurt our effectiveness, or undermine our position on other issues ?
I do not think there is an easy answer to that. It may have some effect. Did it affect us on other issues in terms of the Human Rights Commission? Well, on the question that I know he was interested in, specifically the Helsinki monitors, I do not view that that undermined our position. It just was clear that other countries do not want to be up front on that. The European, Western view toward human rights discussions goes back more to our policy on human rights in the past. We should be more quiet. It should be a quiet sort of diplomatic effort. We should not be as vocal. We should not be as open on human rights.
The policy has changed. I think the Congress, to a great extent, as you know, has been in the forefront of that change.
The European view of how we should handle human rights is not unique to the Human Rights Commission. It shows itself at what happened at Belgrade in terms of the Helsinki accords, and it is of a somewhat different interpretation.
I do not think it totally undermined our position. I do not think it affected our ability to deal with other issues, but we should not dismiss the fact that when we are isolated, it does affect us and South Africa specifically. That is a sensitive nerve.
To be effective in a Human Rights Commission, it is not enough for the United States to carry a big stick and to always be the one up front and be the bully on human rights. What we should be doing is acting as a catalyst, encouraging other countries, specifically Third World countries, to face up to it.
That is where the sensitive nerve comes. They would hope that we would respond on South Africa in a manner that would be stronger than what they are perceiving now.
Our policy has been stated. I do not have to go into that. There are those differences. The degree as to how it affects our policy in terms of other countries, I think, is still an open ended question. I do not think we are totally undermined, but it does affect us in terms of some substantive issues.
I do not think it hurt us on the issues I mentioned in the preceding part of my statement, but we should not totally dismiss it. We should also acknowledge that there will be some issues where we have to stand up and be alone, and if it meant on this question of Iran, which implicitly involves the State of Israel, bringing in the Zionism-racism issue, yes we were alone in that case. It may not be totally understood, but there were other reasons for it.
Mr. BONKER. When you say the reference to Israel was implicit, do you mean the discussion that precipitated the vote was brought out by delegates, or was there something in the language that made it implicit ?
Mr. MEZVINSKY. Yes; first of all, we knew at the same time, or around the same time that this issue was raised, the new government of Iran said they would cut off oil shipments. They mentioned South Africa and they mentioned Israel, so the statement was made there.
The reason that the first language was used was because it was congratulatory, being expressed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission as evidenced by the Syrian delegate that we should congratulate them. What was very interesting; they knew the sensitivity from the West. They did not tie Israel to the actual action taken by the Human Rights Commission. They set its guidelines simply to South Africa.
Yes, there was continued mention of the State of Israel by the main sponsors throughout, and that was one of the reasons—that may not mean that we could not have abstained, which is what Congressman Buchanan mentioned, but I think on this issue in terms of the sensitivities raised regarding Israel, regarding the Middle East, regarding the Zionism issue that, yes, we were alone, and also there was another factor.
To congratulate Iran at a time when we are now seeing violations of human rights, even under this new regime—we are seeing the executions go on- I do not think our position by voting no is inconsistent with our policy, that we would hope that human rights policies would be followed by the present regime, by the present government, as by
So there were several factors involved, and I think that certainly from Congressman Buchanan's standpoint, to see us alone on that issue was troublesome, but those are some of the rationale and the reasons behind it.
I do not think they were adequately explained, in all fairness to Congressman Buchanan, at the time because of the chain of command, shall we say, as to how communications are made. And I think it is clear now that we have had some perspective and some time to take a look at the issue.
Mr. BONKER. Does the State Department's annual report on human rights conditions of recipient countries become a source document? Is that ever referred to? Do you use it in your work on looking at different countries?
Mr. MEZVINSKY. Sure. As a matter of fact, it is submitted to the Congress just before the Human Rights Commission meets and it is used, it is cited-in this case it was cited-by the same delegate that sponsored the Iranian matter as to activities taking place on the West Bank.
At the same time, there were press accounts of that that came out of the Human Rights report. It is cited, of course, with Latin American countries.
There is a resentment by some countries who say, who are we, the United States, to be holier than thou, to issue a public report and subsequent to the meeting in Geneva, I had to go to other countries, European countries, to talk on human rights and there was a sensitivity, there is a cynicism. It is one thing to talk about it privately, but the issue of public reports on other countries bothers, shall we say, bothers certain European countries as well as those countries who are clear violators of human rights.
Yes, it is used, it is cited. We give the reasons for the citation, and when we explain it, we say our policy is a policy based on Executive action, but also strong congressional support. As
you know, some of the actions that were taken regarding human rights were started by the Congress prior to this administration rather than this administration's simply citing it.
Mr. BONKER. Is it widely considered as an authentic document?
Mr. MEZVINSKY. Oh, yes, it is available there, people ask for it. In particular, some countries cite it and are very upset by the citation. They do not care to be cited publicly. They do not care, at the same time, that when we meet the first week, the press that covers that will note the countries who are cited and the problem areas that exist.
It is used and, shall we say, viewed positively by some, but with some degree of skepticism by others.
Mr. BONKER. How about other reports, Amnesty International, Freedom House?
Mr. MEZVINSKY. The Amnesty International reports, the International Commission of Jurists, those reports are also cited. They are supported. It is interesting to note the nongovernmental organizations play a very key role in the Human Rights Commission but if they target, or begin to focus, on a particular country, that country will criticize the particular organization, namely Amnesty International. Specifically Ethiopia, to give you an example: Amnesty International has taken a very strong position regarding Ethiopia, and in Ethiopia, the government does not—which was publicly released, by the way, in their newspaper; the day of the testimony, they publicly released the confidential speech that was used, that was meant to be confidential, but they are not at all happy with Amnesty International.
Mr. BONKER. Let's pursue Ethiopia, for a moment. You said under the confidential procedures that have been established, that 10 countries face charges for at least inquiries about human rights conditions and are invited to appear before the committee?
Mr. MEZVINSKY, Right.
I would be interested, can you share with the subcommittee in open session how that works? Are the charges read and the country asked to respond? Do they know in advance the charges and have a prepared response ?
Take Ethiopia as an example.
Mr. MEZVINSKY. The procedures are that a complaint is filed before the Commission, the subcommission of the Commission that meets in the summer. The complaints are filed; private organizations such as Amnesty International, private groups, file complaints. Specifically with Ethiopia, Amnesty International is involved with that.
That goes through a process. The subcommission has to make a motion whether or not the case was such that it shows a consistent pattern of gross violations.
Mr. BONKER. Is there a full-time staff that works on this?
Mr. MEZVINSKY. Yes, the full-time staff of the Commission, there is a division of human rights that handles complaints. In this case, there are the thousands of complaints that are submitted by different countries and if I am not mistaken, some 30,000 to 50,000 communications were filed before the Human Rights Commission based on different countries and specifically in this case Ethiopia.
That process goes—assuming there is a recommendation from the subcommission that comes to the Commission, the Commission then sets up a working group to sift through a working group of five. That working group makes a study of the case and then recommends actions to the Commission. The Commission meets in closed session and they weigh the options.
The options are the following: They can dismiss it; the Commission can say, look, the case is not very strong. We think it does not show a consistent pattern of gross violation and dismiss it. Up to last year, there had been no action taken on any country, even under the confidential procedure.
Last year, the process started of which Ethiopia was cited last year, along with Úganda, as well as seven other countries.
They can also say the case is a strong case, but it should be simply kept under review and that is it, basically kept under review. We will review the documentation; we will listen to some of the organizations that may complain.
Third, they may appoint some kind of an expert to study it. The next step, they could appoint the committee to take a look at it, or they could say the case is so bad, we are getting no cooperation, we should not put it under a confidential procedure, it should be public.
Those are the options.
In the case of Ethiopia, it stayed under the 1503 procedures and action was taken. In the case I mentioned with Equatorial Guinea, the case was such they felt that you could not be effective under the confidential procedures. Since you could not be effective, there was only one vehicle to go and the vehicle was to go public.
The reason that is given for the confidential procedure is that this is viewed as more effective than the public resolution and that there is followup of forces of the country and officials in that country to respond. But the process is still starting; as Congressman Buchanan points out, it takes a while; the process is slow: I can say from my personal experience in 2 years, it is very frustrating.
But that does not mean that the process itself cannot be a good one, but it is a frustrating, slow process, that can lend itself to politics, no question about it.
Mr. BONKER. In Ethiopia's case, I think it is noteworthy that the country is concerned about the charges and that it would make an appearance. That, in itself, is a means of promoting human rights standards.
Mr. MEZVINSKY. I can say that they not only made an appearance, but there was a great deal of questioning from a whole host of countries on that particular question. In some cases, the case of Ethiopa was one of the most unprecedented cases. That as I pointed out, is very unusual to have a country have to come in and answer. Not only in the case of Ethiopia, but in other countries.
Mr. BONKER. You know when Paul Tsongas and I were in the Horn of Africa a few years ago, and spent a few days in Ethiopia, 2 days longer than we wanted to, the airport was tied up with Russian planes coming in and we saw dead bodies all over the streets of Ethiopia.
Finally we got in to see the colonel, and in our discussion with him, we raised this human rights issue and said, colonel, we have been all over your city. We have seen people indiscriminantly killed and it looked like, to us, that it is a very dangerous place to live. You are violating human rights in the worst sort of way.
He looked puzzled and he said, gentlemen, this is a revolution. Those dead people you saw out there are counterrevolutionaries and we need to purify the revolution. And this was his means of coming to power and purging those who were against the regime. But he did not see it as a human rights problem.
Then he proceeded to give us a hard time because we supported Haile Selassie, who also was a perpetrator of human rights violations and reminded us that our Government said nothing about Haile Selassie's abuses—in fact, we even supported him fully throughout that period of time.
But it is good to see they are sensitive enough to where they would come before the Commission and at least respond to the charges that have been made.
Let me see. I just have a few more questions.
Mr. MEZVINSKY. I might point out, by the way, I cited your visit in our public statement when I talked about that. I cited the fact, when I talked about Ethiopia, and there is a lot of sensitivity, that, in fact, two members of Congress went to Ethiopia and had to step over dead bodies in the street.
But you are right, they used the argument that this is not a human rights issue; this is economic development. So I can understand the kind of response that you got.
Mr. BONKER. That is very interesting, how other people perceive their actions and our reactions to what they are doing. The President's report on reform of restructuring the U.N. came to us in March of 1978. It contained several proposals to perfect the U.N. Human Rights machinery. Included are the following items:
It should work to strengthen the existing special procedures for dealing with private communications on human rights matters; the more expeditious consideration by the Commission of evidence under 1503 procedures should be followed; that we should schedule more frequent regular sessions of the Commission; and that we should increase coordination among regional rights organs and we should have an Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
I might add as a sixth item, Congressman Buchanan's suggestion, that we should elevate the position of U.S. Representative to the ambassadorial rank.
How would you respond to some of these recommendations? Are you consciously working, or is Mr. Hewitt's agency working, to proceed with implementation of some of these proposals?