Friday, February 27, 2004

# Posted 6:12 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE STATE DEPARTMENT'S ANNUAL COUNTRY REPORT OF HUMAN RIGHTS has been released - it's online on the Department's website, here. A transcript from Assistant Secretary Craner's q&a with the press is here. The document is critical both of allies and adversaries, accusing China of backsliding, with arrests of democracy activists and Internet essayists and bloggers, speaking of a "dramatic worsening" of human rights abuses in Cuba underlined by long prison terms handed down to 75 human rights activists, and very critical language toward Burma and North Korea ("one of the world's most inhumane regimes"). Several allies also received critical note, including Saudi Arabia and, to an extent, Israel. On the other hand, trends toward democratization were noted in Qatar, Oman, Yemen and Jordan, as well as the Kyrgyz Republic.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias doesn't buy that Kyrgyzstan is trending toward democratization (and correctly points out that a good deal of quite execrable oppression is taking place in that country), while Brian Ulrich argues in Matt's comments that the Kyrgyz Republic is at any rate the most free of any Central Asian nation, and whether it is trending toward more or less democracy is open to dispute. Incidentally, Freedom House has two reports on Kyrgyzstan, here and here: their consensus is that corruption is rife, and initial hopes for a thriving Kryyz democracy have been dashed by growing presidential authoritarianism.

I'm not convinced yet, though, by Matt's criticism that the State Department country reports alter their analyses or pull their punches to cohere with broader government foreign policy goals. In fact, it's my fairly strong impression that the bureaucratic processes leading to the production of the human rights reports are staffed by people drawn in from the human rights community (like human rights lawyer Harold Koh from YLS, or civil rights lawyer John Shattuck), who remain in very close contact with the principal human rights organizations from whom they draw most of their reporting. The human rights groups, in turn, are generally laudatory of the human rights reports, while using them as an opportunity to criticise broader US policy - see Tom Malinowski from 2002 here, or Amnesty from this year here. This seems to me like a far more benevolent form of the common political phenomenon of bureaucratic capture - where a government agency is staffed principally by members of an industry, who continue to represent its aims and view of the world while working in the executive. And this seems to me, first of all, a good thing where the industry in question is the human rights community, and second of all, to be precisely in line with the legislative intent of Congress when late in the Nixon administration it created the Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in Section 301 of the International Security and Arms Export Control Act of 1976. The idea then was to create an entrenched bureaucratic interest which, even in the cynical course of promoting its own bureaucratic stature within the State Department, would also tend over time to promote the cause of human rights within US foreign policy. That said, I'm personally very fascinated by the Bureau, and would be very interested to hear whether any of our friends have more to say on the point.
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