U.S. Interests Swayed Its Stands on Rights, Report Says : Diplomacy: Watchdog group asserts Washington took a bolder position in 1991 against weak nations than those where major policies are affected.


Human rights around the world took a back seat in the Bush White House during 1991, the Human Rights Watch said in its ninth annual report released Saturday.

Against weak nations where no U.S. economic or political interests were at stake, the Administration took a bold line in defense of human rights, the New York-based independent monitoring organization said. But where competing interests were present, such as the case of China, or when maintaining friendly relations with the authoritarian rulers of oil-rich Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, the United States turned a blind eye, the report asserted.

“The sad irony is that this policy of devaluation (of moral considerations) has become entrenched at a time when U.S. influence is exceedingly high,” the two-volume report said. “Rather than use that influence to insist that human rights are a critical element of a ‘new world order,’ the Administration maintains a shortsighted vision of national interest, too ready to sacrifice the pursuit of human rights if it is not cost- and conflict-free.”

The report blamed President Bush himself for what it called U.S. “devaluation” of human rights, saying that the President’s personal relations with Chinese leaders make him reluctant to attack their misdeeds publicly. The report flayed Bush’s refusal to consider trade sanctions or any punishment other than “private finger-wagging” for Beijing’s repressive activities since pro-democracy demonstrations at Tian An Men Square were brutally crushed in 1989.


The report, compiled from the work of regional teams covering 78 countries, called the Middle East the “crucible” of U.S. human rights policy during the year and found little to praise there.

“President Bush cited Iraqi abuses of human rights in rallying support for a military solution to the invasion of Kuwait,” the report said. “Yet as soon as the war was over, the cry for human rights was lost in the rush of other considerations.”

During the Persian Gulf War, the report charged that the Administration “stopped criticizing the human rights record of any government joining the anti-Iraq coalition; waffled on whether to ground Iraqi helicopter gunships that were helping to butcher participants in the anti-Saddam (Hussein) uprising; feared Iranian influence to the point that it tolerated a massacre of southern (Shiite Muslim) insurgents rather than risk a pro-Iranian regime in Iraq.”

It also said that the Administration “led a hard-line drive for the harshest United Nations embargo, making the Iraqi people ‘innocent victims’ of a strategy designed to force the overthrow of a ruthless tyrant (and) permitted the Kuwaiti government to execute Iraqi sympathizers despite the presence of thousands of U.S. troops and refused aid to pro-democracy forces as the emir (of Kuwait) restored autocratic rule.”


The report accused Washington of stifling mention of human rights in Arab-Israeli peace talks and encouraging “Israel to treat (West Bank) settlements as a matter for negotiation rather than as a violation of human rights that should be stopped unconditionally.”

In Colombia and Peru, the report said, the Administration’s “eagerness to funnel military aid to the ‘war’ on drugs led it to issue blatantly false certifications about human rights conditions.”

The Administration received its kindest review in the Eastern Europe section.

“The State Department, to its credit, has been engaged in constructive human rights activities aimed at the building of democratic institutions in the former Eastern Bloc, surely a worthy and necessary task,” the report said. “But the department has been reluctant to criticize ongoing human rights abuses in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Its main concern has been to shore up the faltering central governments in these countries; in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, this policy continued long after its futility became apparent.”


Rare approving marks for the Administration were also allocated to areas without substantial U.S. interests such as Honduras, “no longer a staging point for the Nicaraguan Contras,” where U.S. Ambassador Cresencio S. Arcos Jr. could denounce army brutality; Kenya, where the absence of Cold War rivalry permitted Ambassador Smith Hempstone Jr. to criticize government repression; and Myanmar, whose military dictatorship Secretary of State James A. Baker III publicly rebuked.