American eyes on human rights abroad -- and at home

For the first time the US State Department's annual report on human rights goes beyond countries receiving US aid to all the members of the United Nations and a few more. Thus it more nearly parallels the annual reports previously released by Amnesty International and Freedom House. In all of them now there is the valuable perspective for Americans of seeing the regimes they support in context with those they do not. they do not just "prop up dictators," they do aid countries where rights conditions are improving, and they can see some of the worst violations under communist and other governments that the US does not support. For example, according to the State Department report, "nowhere in the world are human rights more beleaguered than in Kampuchea [Cambodia]."

Congress ought not to file and forget this new and so far most comprehensive report but consult it thoroughly, along with the other available information, as the legislators consider pending aid requests. Pakistan inevitably comes to the fore in relation to Moscow's invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. State's report finds some improvements there, but it also lists violations, as does Amnesty International, which do not enhance General Zia's request for much more military aid without abiding by Congress's requirement against nuclear proliferation.

The US report finds that china is now "less oppressive" than three years ago, though Pe[words omitted from source] [words omitted from source] cal dissent without free trial. how should the record be weighed in the decision of whether to shatter precedent and aid the communist regime with sales of military equipment as proposed by the Carter administration?

Argentina, too, is reported to have made improvements in the midst of widespread abuses. The US would like to be able to recognize progress there and reduce Argentinian resistance to cooperating with the US on the Soviet grain embargo. But the finding of fewer "disappearances" lately has to be seen against the thick computer list of the "disappeared" supplied by Amnesty International last year -- not to mention Amnesty's recent cross-checked information from former inmates of Argentinian concentration camps where hundreds are said to be tortured with electric prods and some thrown from planes into the ocean.

These are a few instances where American policy has to take account of progress and setbacks for rights as it reckons them along with strategic, political, and other considerations.

At the same time, the US cannot set itself up as a holier-than-thou judge of all the more-or-less erring other lands of the world. Its courts and private citizens, of course, can serve as watchdogs on the home front. Last year America's official Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe reported on how well the US itself was living up to the Helsinki declaration on rights. It gave the country good marks but noted too-restricive visa policies, for example, and pointed out that "the commission feels the Justice Department does not devote sufficient resources the task of monitoring possible human right violations." In light of the recent tragic violence drawing attention to US prison conditions, fresh force is given to the commission mild comment: "There is room for improvement in the United States prison system."

Right now America's volunteer Helsinki Watch Committee is compiling responses the State Department's answers to a Unity Nations questionnaire on rights. The resulting volume is expected to give Americans [Word omitted from source] ranging idea of how rights are faring [word omitted from source] own backyard while they look inquiring over the fences of their neighbors.

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