Columbia International Affairs Online: Course Packs and Syllabi

Human Rights and International Law

David P. Forsythe
from Human Rights and Comparative Foreign Policy: Foundations of Peace, David P. Forsythe, ed.
United Nations University


A review of the literature in English on international human rights in the mid-1990s concluded among other things that more attention needed to be paid to state foreign policy and human rights, especially in comparative perspective.1 At about the same time as that bibliographic essay appeared, an overview on human rights and foreign policy was published by a Dutch author which provided a useful primer.2 Then a couple of years later a Canadian author published a study about whether human rights considerations affected the development politics of three industrialized states in their dealings with various lesser developed countries.3 The present project marks a further step toward responding to the challenge of providing a relatively broad but reasonably detailed and advanced treatment of human rights and foreign policy in comparative perspective.

The subject is important. We live in an era in which there is much discourse about the demise of the state and the anachronism of state sovereignty. We chart the growth over time of intergovernmental organizations, many of which deal with human rights. We note the proliferation of private human rights groups, some of which are transnational in membership and scope of action. It has become commonplace to note the power and presumed independence of multinational or transnational corporations. The independent communications media are a factor of considerable importance. But the state remains central to all such developments. It is states that create intergovernmental organizations, defining their authority and perhaps loaning them some elements of power. When the United Nations Security Council declares that to interfere with humanitarian assistance in Somalia is a war crime for which there is individual responsibility, states collectively take that decision. States provide legal and political space for private human rights groups to operate in the first place, give them access to international organizations, and decide whether to cooperate with them and to what degree. States decide whether private for-profit corporations can trade with Iraq, Libya, or Yugoslavia, and states implement economic sanctions and assign penalties for their violation. States regulate the media and seek to manipulate them beyond that point, even if in return the media pry into state behaviour and report what they can. It is certainly true that the state shares the world stage with a variety of other actors. But the state is hardly withering away, even if its de facto independence of policy-making is increasingly restricted by a variety of factors. Even in Europe, where the state is considerably restricted by the European Union and the Council of Europe, there is still the political reality of a Netherlands, for example, with a relatively independent foreign policy on many issues — including global human rights.

Any state's foreign policy is the result of a two-level game in which domestic values and pressures combine with international standards and pressures to produce a given policy in a given situation for a given time. This combination of domestic and international factors varies from state to state, from time to time, and from place to place, making generalizations difficult to fashion with reliability. The West European democracies are greatly affected on human rights by regional international developments, especially the workings of the Council of Europe and also the European Union. There is also the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. By contrast, on human rights matters the United States is more insular, and thus relatively more influenced by domestic factors. Unlike its democratic partners in Europe, the United States is subject neither to a regional human rights court, nor to a regional economic court that also makes human rights rulings on labour rights and other subjects affecting economic activity.

Yet commonalities exist. One of the major themes of this book is to confirm that most nations, if not all of them, harbour a self-image.4 This self-image affects attention to human rights, both at home and in foreign policy. National self-image may be part and parcel of a nation's political culture — the sum total of a people's attitudes toward political values and processes. This self-image may be fruitfully discussed in terms of the roles that states choose to play in international relations. Canada, seeing itself as a progressive and middle-range power, chooses to play the role internationally as a major peacekeeping nation and catalyst for treaties banning land mines or creating an international criminal court.

Dominant American political culture, for example, sees the United States as a global beacon and shining example of personal freedom, regardless of evident blemishes on its national record concerning slavery, racial and gender discrimination, and various forms of other bigotry. The dominant political classes in the Netherlands tend to see that state as a progressive actor with a special history of support for international law and free trade in peaceful international relations. The Dutch dominant self-image in modern times provides support for human rights concerns in foreign policy, whether as linked to development assistance to the poorer countries of the global south, especially former Dutch colonies, or as linked to second-generation UN peacekeeping that contains human rights dimensions.

Some countries may contain a fuzzy self-image or conflicted political culture, as yet not fully distilled into clear international roles. This is evidently the case in Russia. A strong Slavic tradition of authoritarianism and suspicion of the West, inter alia, competes with a weaker Petrine tradition (from the time of Peter the Great) endorsing cosmopolitan human rights and openness to the West. One result of this conflicted political culture is vacillation in Russian foreign policy on various human rights issues, especially those linked to cooperation with the West. Even when conflicted or less than fully distilled, the notion of self-image as part of political culture is a useful way to begin to discuss the domestic or national factors that affect a state's foreign policy on international human rights issues.

There are a few states such as Iran where reigning notions of self-image and the dominant political culture mostly reject secular universal human rights. As an Islamic theocracy, Iran at times makes two different arguments. It can be an outspoken advocate for cultural relativism and national particularism. Thus it argues that internationally recognized human rights, not being grounded in Islam, do not apply to it. It sees itself as a bulwark against the misguided notions of secular human rights, inspired by the despised United States. On the other hand, in its revolutionary phase, Islamic Iran argues for its version of Islamic universalism, and tries — if necessary by force and subversion — to compel others to follow its religious vision.

But there are not many states in the world today that reject the very notion of secular and universal human rights — at least at the level of principled debate. Even those states at the 1993 UN Conference on Human Rights at Vienna that raised questions about the applicability of the International Bill of Rights to their states in the 1990s eventually accepted Conference language reaffirming the universal character of human rights norms. By 1998 even China had ratified the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and had promised likewise to endorse the companion Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Thus all states, regardless of national history and mythology, were compelled to confront the international law and diplomacy of human rights. Still, national history and resultant political culture affected the interaction between national self-image and international human rights.

National domestic factors beyond self-image were almost always supremely important in the making of foreign policy on human rights. In the United States, and most probably in other liberal democracies, public opinion polls showed that the general public endorsed protection of human rights and advancement of democracy abroad as legitimate and even important foreign policy goals. But at the same time the general public was not inclined to support a costly crusade for human rights abroad. It was not only the United States but also other Western states that had proven reluctant to engage in decisive — and perhaps costly — intervention to protect human rights in places such as Bosnia prior to 1995 and Rwanda during 1994. Even an evident pattern of gross violations of rights to personal security, including genocide and systematic rape as a weapon of war, had not moved these countries to decisive action.

Readily available evidence, in addition to polls where they existed, showed that Western publics might endorse human rights in the abstract and even support routine diplomacy for their advancement. But expending national blood and treasure in their behalf was another matter. Public and legislative clamour for an exit from Somalia after American casualties in the fall of 1993 was symptomatic of what the polls were telling us about American public opinion and support for costly foreign ventures. Since Western states were the motor to interventionary protection of human rights through the United Nations Security Council and other international organizations, the nature of Western — especially American — public opinion was an important brake on protective possibilities. Systematic sacrifice in behalf of international human rights could be sustained in the liberal democratic states only with the support of public opinion translated into legislative opinion. And, as noted, public support for costly foreign policy for human rights was not much in evidence — especially after about 1993. If this situation prevailed in the liberal democracies, it should not be so surprising if other states were less than daring and steadfast in their efforts to see internationally recognized human rights implemented.

A certain public reserve about sacrifice for the rights of foreigners, which in other terms meant that moral interdependence across nations seemed weaker than material interdependence, did not preclude action by private groups active in support of international human rights. Indeed, in all the liberal democracies numerous human rights groups, and other private groups such as labour unions and churches that became active on certain human rights questions, were an evident feature of civil society. While maintaining their "non-political" status, they tried to "educate" — or lobby — various state officials. Media coverage also provided an independent if spasmodic spur to attention to human rights issues.

In states without a strong tradition of civic society, and particularly in those states dominated in the past by illiberal governments, the activity of private human rights groups was weak. Economic difficulties also impeded the development of a vigorous human rights network in the private domain. Yet almost everywhere the historical trend was toward more rather than less education by human rights groups, and more rather than less media coverage of the subject. Mexico was an interesting case in point. Long hesitant about the role of international as well as truly independent domestic human rights groups, the Mexican government in the 1990s found itself more and more having to explain its human rights record to a transnational or intermestic coalition made up of churches, the media, and human rights actors.5 The government finally agreed to meet with the Executive Secretary of Amnesty International from London, and then later with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

This is not to say that private human rights groups always generated significant influence on the making of foreign policy in a particular state. The groups themselves regularly complained about their impotence. Other factors might be more important for a given time, place, or policy. Executive preferences, military opinion, business interests, or national moods and traditions might control policy at the end of the day. But the presence or absence, the number and resources, the emphases and orientations of private human rights groups were subjects worthy of analysis in understanding foreign policy and human rights.

Likewise, in a number of states the analysis of political parties and their position on human rights issues was an important topic. In some states, such as the Netherlands, perhaps because of coalition governments, it might be possible for the state to manifest a more or less enduring foreign policy on human rights across time and changes in the coalition. Professor Peter Baehr appears to suggest this in chapter 3. In presidential systems like that in the United States, institutional conflict between the executive and legislative branches was at least as important for foreign policy and human rights as differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. But in states like the United Kingdom and India, party differences on human rights abroad were clear and important. In chapter 4, Sally Morphet shows clearly that the British Labour Party was far more likely than its Conservative counterpart to take numerous initiatives on international human rights. And the rise to power of the BJP or Hindu nationalist party in India in the late 1990s carried with it the prospect of important departures from previous Indian positions on several human rights subjects both at home and abroad, as shown in chapter 7 by Sanjoy Banerjee.

Likewise the very structure of the state merits analysis for an in-depth understanding of human rights policy abroad. On the one hand, a small state such as Costa Rica, with no military establishment and a small foreign policy bureaucracy, might manifest a dominant presidency in foreign affairs. Cristina Eguizabal is very clear on this point in chapter 11 on Latin America. The structure of the state might not matter much in such countries. On the other hand, a superpower such as the United States, with a sizeable military-industrial complex, presented quite different influences on the making of foreign policy in general and foreign human rights policy in particular. In the United States in the late 1990s, difficulties in Somalia reinforced the Vietnam syndrome, leading the Pentagon to try to continue to avoid involvement in low-intensity armed conflict. The Pentagon clearly preferred operations like Desert Storm (1991) rather than "operations other than war" in which political restrictions and objectives other than the military defeat of an enemy might be important. Given the considerable influence of the Pentagon in Washington, a President such as Clinton — who had no personal military record — could deploy military force in places such as Haiti and Bosnia only with considerable political risk at home and strict rules of engagement abroad. This situation hampered any move toward quick and decisive protection of human rights abroad through military action. By comparison, in Japan, as shown by Chiyuki Aoi and Yozo Yokota in chapter 5, a strong foreign policy bureaucracy wedded to strictly economic pursuits might prove a formidable obstacle to the development of an active and broad national policy on human rights abroad.

On the other hand, the United States did manifest a human rights bureau in the Department of State, as of the late 1990s called the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. There was also a standing subcommittee of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Congress, with explicit mandates pertaining to international human rights. These permanent features of the policy-making process enhanced the probability of regular review of foreign human rights issues, while giving those interested in such issues a focal point for trying to influence legislative and executive decisions. Britain, by comparison, had no such specialized agents in either the Foreign Office or Parliament, as Sally Morphet shows in chapter 4. The Netherlands, by way of further comparison, manifested for a time a Citizens' Advisory Council on Human Rights, which reported to the Foreign Minister, discussed by Peter Baehr in chapter 3.

There were other features of state structure that could be important from time to time for international human rights. The constituent states of the federal United States occasionally developed their own unofficial foreign policies related to human rights. Many internal states, Nebraska being the first, developed disinvestment and other financial policies designed to impede economic growth in the Republic of South Africa under white minority government.6 Cities, counties, and states within the United States eventually blocked some US$20 billion in resources that might have been otherwise transferred to South Africa during the era of apartheid. When the federal Congress voted economic sanctions on South Africa in 1986, it explicitly decided to let stand, and not pre-empt on the part of the federal government, this decentralized pressure on white authorities. Numerous sub-federal units in the United States enacted similar policies designed to promote equitable labour rights and non-discrimination in the private sector of Northern Ireland, a province of the United Kingdom. Also in the 1990s, some internal states of the United States, such as Massachusetts, enacted legislation designed to curtail trade with Burma/Myanmar because of the human rights situation there. Thus in some federal nation-states, the sub-national governments might take action on human rights abroad that was uncoordinated by the central or federal or national authorities. Such action was not possible in countries like Britain with a unitary or centralized foreign policy process.

In a number of liberal democracies the corporate sector showed increased attention to international human rights toward the turn of the century.7 Heineken, based in the Netherlands, pulled out of Burma because of the military government's continuing refusal to honour the outcome of elections a decade earlier. Levi Strauss, based in San Francisco, refused for a time to utilize cheap Chinese labour in the making of blue jeans, citing labour and other rights violations in that massive market. Reebok, based in the United Kingdom, certified that its soccer balls were not manufactured using child labour in places such as South Asia. Consumer boycotts in a number of states, as well as lobbying efforts by private human rights groups, were closely linked to these corporate decisions.

It was certainly true that not all for-profit corporations showed the same sensitivity to human rights issues noted above. A coalition of American companies combined to challenge the Massachusetts law on Burma cited above, hoping that some court in the United States would strike down the law as a violation of the US constitution, under which regulation of foreign commerce is arguably a prerogative of the federal Congress. The Massachusetts law was also the subject of various challenges within the World Trade Organization. Be all that as it may, the fact remains that, in a number of states, the role of the corporate sector was changing. It could no longer be assumed that for-profit corporations would always oppose attention to international human rights, or would always lobby against human rights legislation at the state and federal levels of government. Indeed, some corporations were banding together, and working with governments, to adopt codes of conduct for all corporations doing business in a particular industry, country, or region.

A review of the various domestic factors that frequently impinged on foreign policy-making regarding human rights did not always lead to the conclusion that such factors were decisively controlling for the fate of that policy. In Latin America, for example, it might be the case that at least governments in small countries were more affected by relations with Washington than by their own domestic factors. Cristina Equizabal stresses this point in chapter 11. That is to say, Latin governmental concerns about both maintaining good relations with the hemispheric hegemon and resisting US tendencies toward hemispheric intervention might outweigh the impact of at least some domestic factors at least some of the time. To take another example, it might also be the case that the communications media and private human rights groups generated less pressure on British governments than was the case in other North Atlantic democracies. Sally Morphet suggests this interpretation in chapter 4. A British government with majority support in the House of Commons could hold to a given policy despite criticism from the public and interest groups. Also, British governments benefited from a long tradition of parliamentary rather than popular sovereignty, and from a considerable tradition of widespread deference to the government in foreign affairs.

Nevertheless, in general most foreign policy decisions on human rights usually reflected to some degree various domestic influences beyond the calculations of national interest held by foreign policy officials. In general, domestic politics beyond officials' preferences mostly mattered in the making of foreign policy.8 A nation's self-image, current public opinion, extent and nature of bureaucratic in-fighting, legislative independence, political party platforms, authority of sub-federal units, and the like combined to affect national human rights policy abroad.

These factors complemented, and frequently complicated, more strictly international influences on human rights policy abroad that stemmed from other governments, international organizations, and multinational corporations. Indeed, the very condition of anarchic international relations, lacking as it does a supranational centre, generated its own structural pressures on foreign policy for human rights — making coordinated policy difficult but not impossible. The operation of the principle of state sovereignty meant that any given state might chart its own independent course, based on its own perceived interests, rather than support a general policy in the name of human rights. Almost all international efforts to apply economic sanctions in behalf of human rights, for example, were met by some "cheating" or "sanctions busting" in pursuit of national economic advantage. Or to take another example, almost all efforts to coordinate policy toward China on human rights issues in the 1990s floundered on the hard rocks of varying perceptions of raison d'état. It was the nature of the international relations, and its rule of state sovereignty, that gave rise to this persistent condition.

It is against this background of the interplay of domestic and international conditions and pressures that we can chart state foreign policy and human rights.

I. Foreign policy and multilateralism

Very few states openly reject the International Bill of Rights and many of its supplemental treaties. No state has ever sought to adhere formally to the United Nations Charter but reserve against Articles 55 and 56 dealing with human rights. Almost all of the eight states that abstained in voting on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights have repudiated their position at that time — Saudi Arabia being the notable exception. There is something about the intrinsic attractiveness of the abstract notion of human rights that deters formal rejection — even by states prone to violate specific human rights rules in specific situations. This pattern may represent only the homage that vice pays to virtue. Nevertheless, we should recognize the hegemonic quality of the idea of human rights.

Yet there is variation among states in how seriously they take international human rights instruments, in which obligations they accept, and in the extent to which they attach reservations and other conditions to their acceptance. Whereas Hungary's constitution, for example, proclaims the superiority of international law, including human rights law, over national law, dominant legal tradition is otherwise in the United States. In the latter state, it is only with considerable difficulty that the state agrees to be bound by international human rights provisions, if at all. US subordination to the international law of human rights certainly does not happen by constitutional proclamation. Other comparisons are useful. Whereas almost all states accept economic and social rights in the abstract but treat them as "step-children" or "poor cousins" in practice, the United States has never officially accepted economic and social rights as real rights that the state is obligated to respect. Various states have appended various reservations to various human rights treaties, but only the United States has so qualified its formal acceptance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as to have other states call into question the validity of its original acceptance under the international law of treaties.

We can also compare states in terms of the importance of regional arrangements on human rights. In general, the states most affected by regional organizations on human rights are the European ones. While all of them are now subject to the human rights standards and application measures in the Council of Europe (CE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), especially affected are the states that are members of the European Union (EU). These 15 states are subject to the supranational human rights rulings of the both the EU's European Court of Justice and the CE's European Court of Human Rights. The sum total of the effects of the EU, CE, and OSCE means that human rights issues have a higher profile in Europe than in other regions. Most of the states in the western hemisphere, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia do not have to face the prospect of binding judgments on human rights by international courts, as is true in regard to the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. (There is the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights, but it handles few cases compared with Europe — and the United States is not subject to its jurisdiction.) Some states such as Britain may be far more affected by the need to bring domestic laws and conditions into compliance with regional standards than by the need to adjust national law to domestic pressures, although this particular comparison is a difficult one to make with certainty.

It is also illuminating to compare the pattern of foreign policy regarding human rights in the international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank. Some states like Germany have obviously been in favour of some "political conditionality" in which some loans are made conditional on certain human rights developments. Other states, particularly the borrowing states like India, have objected. The latter group of states tends to see such international human rights conditionality as a violation of the original terms of agreement of the IFIs and as a violation of the state sovereignty and domestic jurisdiction of the borrowers. For those states in favour of linking developmental loans to human rights conditions, important questions can be raised about whether or not such conditionality is being pursued with clarity and consistency. The answer in general is almost assuredly in the negative,9 raising the issue of whether those states with paramount influence in IFI circles need to revisit their policy on this question.

During the first decade after the end of the Cold War, an important question concerned the interaction of state foreign policy with the United Nations organs most active on human rights issues. Especially if states were permanent members of the UN Security Council or elected to it, were they in favour of expanding the scope of Chapter VII and peace and security issues to encompass human rights matters? Were they in favour of a new permissibility for "humanitarian intervention" and thus overriding state consent in the interest of protecting persons inside states from gross and systematic violation of their rights recognized in international law? Some states, such as India, were clearly opposed, fearing the use of the discourse on human rights in the cause of rather narrow interests by the permanent five members. After all, in the past several centuries it was difficult to discover very many, if any, cases of truly principled humanitarian intervention in which the stronger powers acted for the real rights of foreigners without pursuit of narrow commercial or strategic issues. Ironically, India had rationalized its forcible dismemberment of old Pakistan in 1981 by reference to humanitarian intervention — namely, the need to stop the slaughter of Bengalis. Other states, such as the United States, seemed supportive of new thinking on humanitarian intervention at least during the 1991-1993 period, but more cautious after the 1993 events in Somalia. Still other states, such as Japan, in places like Cambodia, had certainly participated in UN field missions with human rights components, but had sought to maintain as much deference to state sovereignty as efficient politics would allow. The Japanese, for example, were not in favour of trying to use force to secure the compliance of the Khmer Rouge with the human rights and other agreements they had signed. Thus the matter of state cooperation with a Security Council sometimes prone to take a broad interpretation of its rights under Chapter VII pertaining to "peace and security" remained an important point of analysis.

Another important question was whether or not states really supported international criminal prosecution for those who had engaged in grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Which states were in favour of a standing UN criminal court, with an independent prosecutor capable of initiating a broad range of indictments stemming especially from events in armed conflicts? On the other hand, which states saw emerging international criminal law as a grave infringement of the prerogatives of state sovereignty and sometimes an impediment to the diplomacy that could put an end to atrocities by political rather than juridical means? Britain under a Conservative government in the mid-1990s publicly endorsed international criminal justice in the former Yugoslavia, but behind the scenes worked to block the operation of the relevant Tribunal. London preferred a diplomatic rather than a juridical agreement that would end most of the fighting and associated violations of human rights. The United States supported international criminal justice in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but the Pentagon and key conservatives in the Senate vigorously opposed any notion that US personnel should be subjected to trial by a standing international criminal court. Thus the United States voted against the statute for such a court at a diplomatic conference in Rome during July 1998.

Yet another set of questions that was related to state foreign policy at the United Nations concerned the use states made of the General Assembly. What initiatives, if any, did they take on human rights issues in that forum? Costa Rica, for example, had initiated a draft resolution on human rights education. How typical was this? Other states in the 1990s had introduced resolutions with wording favourable to a collective international right to receive humanitarian assistance, especially in times of armed conflict and similar situations. Which states supported such measures, and which states voted in opposition in the name of traditional notions of state sovereignty? On the outcome of answers to such questions rested the prospects of codification of new humanitarian principles.

In the UN Human Rights Commission, the traditional hub of UN routine diplomacy on human rights, which states pursued which agendas with what results? Which states, for example, wished to adopt resolutions critical of China's human rights record in order to pressure that permanent member of the Security Council to liberalize or perhaps even democratize? Which states wanted to pursue dialogue with China on human rights through other, less confrontational means? And which states sided with China in wanting to reduce as much as possible the international dialogue altogether about China and human rights? What were the long-term trends regarding use of the UN Human Rights Commission to try to see international human rights standards applied? And which states were primarily responsible for these trends? Which states, for example, pressed for emergency Commission sessions on former Yugoslavia and also Rwanda, with what results? To take another example, which states led the move toward enhanced legal protections for indigenous peoples, and again with what results?

A closely related question focused on state policies toward the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was reasonably well known that the OECD states were the largest contributors to UNHCR's budget, which in the 1990s was more and more devoted to humanitarian assistance. The UNHCR increasingly sought to provide socio-economic help not just to conventional refugees fleeing persecution, but also to those who found themselves in a refugee-like situation regardless of legal niceties — such as displaced persons inside a country's borders and those fleeing disorder rather than individually targeted persecution. But beyond financial support, which states — if any — afforded the UNHCR remarkable influence in the awarding of refugee status and/or at least temporary asylum? Which states most closely and consistently followed UNHCR guidelines for decision-making on these delicate questions? Which states manifested considerable friction with the UNHCR, and over what issues?

Given that the promotion and protection of human rights increasingly constituted one of the main activities of the United Nations, which was entirely consistent with its Charter adopted in 1945, it was important to understand the intersection of state foreign policy with this principal purpose of the Organization.

II. Bilateral policy and human rights

In the shrinking and interconnected world that exists as we prepare to enter the twenty-first century, it is frequently not possible fully to separate multilateral from bilateral foreign policy. The difference is frequently one of degree rather than an absolute kind. When a state seeks to undertake a foreign policy apart from formal international organizations, increasingly it often seeks to coordinate that policy with its political friends and usual allies. The old maxim about safety in numbers has some relevance to the subject at hand, since collective approval and support, even outside intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), confers some political legitimacy and otherwise helpful backing to a state's goals. Thus when, in the early 1990s, the United States took up the possibility of some sanctions on military government in Nigeria because of its continuing repression, Washington discussed matters with especially its European political allies. (Finding little support for its ideas, the United States was not able to maximize its objectives.) Nevertheless, states do pursue some foreign policy objectives largely on a bilateral basis, even if at some point these national initiatives may become entangled in multilateral developments or take place against the background of multilateral standards and organizations. This pattern certainly holds for human rights abroad.

One of the more important questions in contemporary international relations is the extent to which various states make the creation and consolidation of liberal democracy one of their salient foreign policy goals. By liberal democracy we refer to a polity manifesting free and fair elections for national office, on the basis of almost universal suffrage, with the winners actually governing the country; accompanied by the rule of law and constitutionalism (government limited by law); with protection of those civil and political rights that reasonably protect against the tyranny of the majority. Whether a liberal democracy is also a social democracy depends on its implementation of socio-economic rights. There are multilateral programmes on this subject, such as supervision of elections by the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) and the OSCE. But here we are concerned with bilateral developments.

It can actually happen that an authoritarian state displays a foreign policy supportive of some type of democracy abroad. Nigeria under military rule has operated in some neighbouring countries to oppose coups that deposed elected officials (Sierra Leone), and to create elected governments out of failed states (Liberia). But surely this is an exception that tends to prove the general rule that authoritarian foreign policy is not much interested in the creation and consolidation of liberal democracy.

It is also unhappily true that liberal democracies do not always support democratic developments abroad — certainly in the short term. It is well known, and reiterated in most of the chapters that follow, that liberal democracies often perceive economic, strategic, and other reasons to support authoritarian and otherwise repressive leaders in foreign countries. Historically it was war and other threats to national security traditionally defined that caused democracies to support authoritarian states. Allied support for Stalin's Soviet Union during the Second World War is a classic example.

In the modern world, however, many liberal democracies at least articulate a desire to create and consolidate liberal democracy as part of their foreign policy. This may be because such a goal is seen to reinforce global peace; the proposition of the democratic peace — that liberal democracies do not war inter se — has received much attention. This articulation of support for democracy abroad may occur because liberal democracies are seen to reinforce business and trade objectives; limited governments with large private sectors and a free electorate may be good for business and international trade. Articulating a pro-democracy foreign policy may occur because liberal democracies, at least in their public pronouncements, find it difficult to practise democracy at home and not preach it abroad; states do like to be, and do tend to be, similar in their domestic and foreign policies much of the time.10 After all, domestic and foreign policy are made by the same elected leaders in liberal democracies.

In any event, most of the Western liberal democracies go beyond rhetoric and take a position on liberal democracy abroad in two ways. States such as the United States have a proactive, programmatic approach to this subject, helping to fund various activities in foreign countries designed to promote "liberal market democracies." The question arises as to the record of other states in this regard. Secondly, when there is an attempted or real change of government abroad, Washington takes a position on whether to recognize and otherwise support the new situation. The presence or absence of liberal democracy informs US decisions on these matters. This is not to say that liberal democracy is the only question on the agenda. It is to say that a discussion of liberal democracy is part of Washington's decision-making process — whether the precise subject is an auto-golpe or attempt to seize excessive power by the President in Guatemala in 1993, a coup in Sierra Leone in 1997, a change of government in former Zaire in 1997, a grab for power by Hun Sen in Cambodia in 1998, and so on.

Given that liberal democratic rights are enshrined in the International Bill of Rights, as well as in various resolutions by the United Nations, OAS, CE, EU, OSCE, etc., it is important to enquire into state foreign policy and liberal democracy. International standards call for liberal democracy, whatever its impact on international peace or free trade and prosperity. To what extent does a state seek to advance stable liberal democracy abroad on either a programmatic or an ad hoc basis? What resources, if any, are devoted to this objective? What policies might substitute for this objective as a central goal of foreign policy, and why? What is the state's pattern in finding reasons for recognizing, tolerating, or even actively working with authoritarian and repressive regimes? Over time, does a state show more or less attention to the question of democracy abroad, and why?

A related question is the extent to which a state will try to alter its various foreign assistance programmes, and regulate foreign direct investment and/or trade by the private sector, because of human rights issues. Again if we take the United States as an example, since the mid-1970s the Congress has required that US economic and military assistance to foreign states be linked to several human rights considerations or to unspecified human rights in general. Because of this legislation, and indeed because of shifting executive desires, the United States has some 25 years of experience with trying to use the levers of foreign assistance to advance certain human rights concerns. This is in addition to collective economic measures taken through the United Nations and other IGOs in the name of human rights protection. Washington has also sought on occasion to manipulate direct foreign assistance and trade by the private sector because of human rights, although in general it is reluctant to do this. It did so, however, regarding Uganda under Idi Amin and the Republic of South Africa under white minority rule from 1986.

One would think a clear picture has emerged as to the relationship of foreign assistance and other economic measures to human rights, and vice versa. Alas, as shown in chapter 2 on US foreign policy, efforts to track these relationships have led to somewhat elusive conclusions. Other states, too, such as Britain and the Netherlands, have from time to time made clear to other states that the latter should not count on continued foreign assistance as long as certain human rights problems remain. In particular, chapter 3 by Peter Baehr on the Netherlands shows that it is not always easy for a state to manipulate a relationship involving foreign assistance into influence for the donor over human rights matters.

Nevertheless, states continue to try to manipulate foreign assistance and regulate foreign investment and trade in the light of their foreign policy goals, including advancement of human rights. To generate influence is arguably the main point of, especially, foreign assistance, pure altruism on the part of states being in rather short supply. It is frequently difficult to sell a purely altruistic foreign policy to many taxpayers at home, who demand or expect some expedient return. And in some situations, say US relations with Guatemala in 1993, or US relations with Croatia during most of the late 1990s, the US threat of or actual withholding of foreign assistance because of human rights issues did appear to have some effect on the recipient state. The auto-golpe was rolled back (although more factors were at work than just US foreign policy); the Tudjman government in Croatia did turn over some indicted and thus suspected war criminals to the UN ad hoc criminal tribunal at The Hague. Thus it is important to continue to make a comparative analysis of the extent to which states seek to protect human rights through foreign assistance, and with what results. Likewise, although there is a large literature trying to assess the effect of sanctions that interrupt investment and trade, there is much left to learn about, in particular, prohibition of investment/trade on a bilateral basis and advancement of human rights.

States, because of political culture, geographical position, or constructed national interests, may take a variety of essentially national initiatives on human rights in foreign policy. We would hypothesize that the number of such initiatives is growing by an ever larger number of states, given the extent to which the discourse on human rights, and at least diplomatic action in its behalf, has been institutionalized in international relations.11 We need to test that hypothesis with careful enquiry.

III. Conclusions

The chapters that follow, undertaken on the basis of the questions outlined in this introduction, should begin to give us a better picture of state foreign policy and human rights on a fairly broad scale. We should arrive at a comparative evaluation of real as opposed to pro forma state views of the International Bill of Rights and of the most important human rights treaties ancillary to that core standard. On the basis of our enquiries, we should be able to say something about the prospects of consistency and perhaps even coordination concerning human rights in foreign policy. Is it true that most states seek to address human rights problems abroad only in small or weak states, or those perceived to be unimportant to national interests — however defined? Is it true that most states, in so far as they take action on human rights abroad through their foreign policies, do so almost exclusively in relation to civil-political rights rather than socio-economic rights? Even with various problems and deficiencies in conceptualization and execution, is it not true that more states are taking more action for international human rights than ever before in their histories?

These are important questions. This volume seeks to make a first step in answering them. No doubt it will not be the last word on the subject. Improvements will no doubt be made in conceptualization, methodology, and substantive findings. Nevertheless, given the lack of studies of human rights and foreign policy in comparative perspective to date, we are confident that the current project will provide a useful foundation on which others can build.

With some 190 states in the world, it is unclear what a perfect sample would look like for the purpose of examining the place of human rights in contemporary foreign policy. We wanted to include some major powers, and thus we included the United States, Japan, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom. We wanted to include some liberal democracies, members of the OECD, and thus we included the Netherlands along with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. We wanted to include some states in the process of transition from authoritarian to democratic rule, and thus we included Hungary and South Africa, along with Russia. We also wanted to include some states that were critical of universal human rights as recognized through the United Nations, or critical of the way in which the Security Council had acted in relation to these rights, and so we included Iran and India. We wanted to pay attention to equitable geographical representation, and thus we included states from Latin America, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North America. We wanted to include a collection of states that did justice to population factors, and thus we included India, the United States, South Africa, and Russia, while not ignoring the smaller or middle range states such as Costa Rica and the Netherlands. Our original plans included attention to Chinese foreign policy and human rights, but for personnel reasons we were reluctantly forced to change course.

With an unlimited budget and a multi-volume project, we could have added numerous states that merit study: France, Norway, Germany, Nigeria, Kenya, Mexico, Brazil, Pakistan, Israel, the Philippines, etc. Constrained by finances and also by a desire to produce a single monograph at a reasonable price, so that our analyses might indeed circulate relatively widely, a steering committee in consultation with UNU officials finally decided upon the present 10 states. As stated in the earlier pages of this introduction, we believe the results comprise a carefully considered advance in our understanding of human rights and foreign policy in comparative perspective.


Note 1: Jack Donnelly, "Post-Cold War Reflections on the Study of International Human Rights," Ethics and International Affairs 8 (1994), 97—118. See also Donnelly's very good review of the literature on human rights and foreign policy in his International Human Rights (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998, 2nd edn.), 195-198.  Back.

Note 2: Peter R. Baehr, The Role of Human Rights in Foreign Policy (London: Macmillan, 1994).  Back.

Note 3: David Gillies, Between Principle and Practice: Human Rights in North-South Relations (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1996).  Back.

Note 4: See further John G. Stoessinger, Nations in Darkness/Nations at Dawn (New York: McGraw Hill, 1994, 6th edn.).  Back.

Note 5: See further especially Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).  Back.

Note 6: David P. Forsythe, American Exceptionalism and Global Human Rights (Lincoln: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1999, Distinguished Professor Lecture).  Back.

Note 7: For an optimistic account see Debora L. Spar, "The Spotlight and the Bottom Line," Foreign Affairs 77/2 (March/April 1998), 7-12.  Back.

Note 8: Margaret Hermann and Joe. D. Hagan, "International Decision Making: Leadership Matters," Foreign Policy no. 110 (Spring 1998), 124-137.  Back.

Note 9: David P. Forsythe, "The United Nations, Human Rights, and Development," Human Rights Quarterly 19/2 (May 1997), 334—349.  Back.

Note 10: Alain Noel and Jean-Marc Therien, "From Domestic to International Justice: The Welfare State and Foreign Aid," International Organization 49/3 (Summer 1995), 523-553.  Back.

Note 11: David P. Forsythe, "The UN and Human Rights at Fifty: An Incremental but Incomplete Revolution," Global Governance 1/3 (September-December 1995), 297-318.  Back.