Use the State Department to Protect Rights

The Opinion page article "Spreading Democracy Around the Globe," July 8, urges US diplomats to devote greater attention to efforts to promote human rights and democracy. While the assessment of these problems is correct, one of the proposed changes badly misses the mark.

The author is right to urge US diplomats abroad to identify publicly with individuals and nongovernmental organizations that stand for democracy. But he is wrong to suggest that the State Department's human rights program be dismantled or substantially reduced to provide funds for democracy programs abroad. Why not redirect funds to these programs from money saved by reductions in defense or cold-war-oriented foreign-aid programs?

Rather than reducing the State Department's human rights capacity, the Clinton administration should strengthen it. The development of nongovernmental organizations committed to human rights depends on more than the provision of money. The cause of many of these advocates' problems is that their own governments either won't let them operate at all or that they subject them to constant persecution.

There is no substitute for an aggressive US diplomatic strategy pressing for the protection of human rights. Such a policy should be aimed specifically at strengthening international protection for these embattled rights advocates. Michael H. Posner, New York Executive Director Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please fax letters to (617) 450-2317 or address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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