John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
JOHN SHATTUCK: The most important goal is the effort to put these issues right at the
center of our foreign policy so there is no country where we don’t take human rights and
democracy and labor into account.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, a talk with Assistant Secretary of State
SHATTUCK: There are circumstances in which sanctions may well be appropriate. And we have
as a last resort applied them, for example in Burma, or in Sudan, where there is tremendous
religious persecution. But applying sanctions in all cases is not the right way to go. Diplomatic
approaches make much more sense.
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: During the 90 days that began on April 6th in 1994, Rwanda
experienced the most intensive slaughter in this blood-filled century we are about to leave.
Families murdered in their homes; people hunted down as they fled, by soldiers and militia,
through farmland and woods as if they were animals.
PORTER: On March 25th President Clinton made a very short stop in Kigali,
Rwanda to speak to survivors of the genocide there.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The government-led effort to exterminate Rwanda’s Tutsi and moderate
Hutu’s, as you know better than me, took at least a million lives. Scholars of these sorts of
events say that the killers, armed mostly with machetes and clubs, nonetheless did their work
five times as fast as the mechanized gas chambers used by the Nazis. These events grew from a
policy aimed at the systematic destruction of a people. The ground for violence was carefully
prepared. The airwaves poisoned with hate, casting the Tutsi’s as scapegoats for the problems of
Rwanda, denying their humanity. All of this was done clearly to make it easy for otherwise
reluctant people to participate in wholesale slaughter. I am directing my administration to
improve, with the international community, our system for identifying and spotlighting nations in
danger of genocidal violence so that we can assure worldwide awareness of impending threats. It
may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all
over the world there were people like me sitting in offices day after day after day, who did not
fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable
SHATTUCK: Rwanda is one of the greatest tragedies, I think, that has occurred in fact
during the five years that I’ve been Assistant Secretary. I think the President put it very well.
I was with him in Kigali when he delivered that speech. In fact I helped him prepare it. I think
the scope and speed with which that horrendous genocide swept through Rwanda in 1994 was
something that we did not adequately address. There’s no question about it. I think it happened
so quickly and the possibility of developing an international response in the form of aggressive
peace keeping was not taken up as it should have been, I believe. This was before—we have to
remember this was before—the kinds of deployments that took place in Haiti and Bosnia
subsequently, where I think a more aggressive approach toward these issues began to take place.
PORTER: This is John Shattuck. He’s Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor. His job is to make sure these issues become an integral part of US foreign
SHATTUCK: We are very deeply involved now in the effort to follow up the President’s
speech in Kigali, to develop programs of assistance for Rwanda in particular; to improve its
justice system, to ensure that it can conduct trials of those who were engaged in the genocide
and conduct them fairly. There’s some deep concerns about the due process ways in which some of
the earlier trials have been conducted. We also are working to strengthen the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which recently had a guilty plea from the top genocidist. I think
that sent a signal through Rwanda that justice is very serious here and it’s got to be imposed.
It’s got to be brought about. You can’t have ultimate peace without justice after a genocide has
occurred. I think we’re also looking, as the President highlighted during his trip, at
strengthening regional peacekeeping efforts; working with countries in the region, providing
logistical support for them and training. The African Crisis Response Initiative is something
that’s developed since the Rwanda genocide and we need to strengthen those efforts. In many, many
ways I think we’re better prepared now than we were in 1994. And I think that’s what the
President was talking about.
[brief musical interlude]
SHATTUCK: Well, this bureau is responsible for all aspects of human rights and democracy,
which is of course an even broader aspect of human rights, as they relate to US foreign policy.
Now that’s a very tall order and obviously we share that responsibility in large measure with
many other aspects of the State Department. In fact I think one of both the achievements of this
bureau and responsibilities is to mainstream these issues in US foreign policy so that in all of
our relations with countries around the world issues of human rights and broader issues of
democracy are very much part of that. Labor is another aspect of human rights. Worker rights, the
protection of children around the world against child labor and certainly forced labor or slave
labor, these are all concerns that this bureau has in working with the regional bureaus of the
State Department and with the Secretary of State and other agencies of the government, and
certainly the White House/National Security Council.
PORTER: What prepared you for this office?
SHATTUCK: I don’t think there’s anything that really prepares you for this kind of office.
Over the last 4½ years I’ve traveled to about 55 countries, very few of them places where
people want to take vacations. Although some of them. These are tough, tough spots. I had spent
much of my career working on civil rights as well as human rights issues, domestic issues of
civil rights, civil liberties. I had previously been involved with the American Civil Liberties
Union as the Washington office director and then I taught human rights law and civil rights law
at a law school, at Harvard Law School. And so those are good aspects of preparation, but again
the responsibilities here vary tremendously so there’s no one way to prepare for them.
PORTER: Any particular goals you had in mind when the President sent you here? And have
they been met?
SHATTUCK: I think the most important goal—I feel good about—is the effort to put these
issues right at the center of our foreign policy so there is no country where we don’t take human
rights and democracy and labor into account. More specifically, I think I had a goal of having
some institutions of international justice be created. We live in a time when virtually every day
you turn on CNN and you see one or another crisis of ethnic or racial or religious conflict;
places like Bosnia or Rwanda, these horrible burning aspects of the post-Cold War era. I think we
have begun to develop a justice response to that. The two international criminal tribunals; the
one for Rwanda and the one for Bosnia. And now an effort to create an international criminal
court which will try people like Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein or Karadic or the leaders of the
Rwanda genocide. These are all very important goals that I think we’re in the process of trying
The effort, third goal, I think was an effort to take what was happening at the end of the Cold
War, which is this tremendous unleashing of grass roots forces for democracy in many parts of the
world, particularly obviously in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but
also in places like South Africa and also parts of Asia, and to work with those forces to try to
promote democracy through our foreign policy… To ally ourselves with those are struggling for
democracy in those countries and their own countries. And I think we’ve moved along that line as
well. It’s a very hard, long-term process and there are plenty of setbacks for democracy to be
sure, but I think on the other hand that, as President Clinton said in his public debate with
President Jiang Zemin of China, history now is favoring grass roots democracy and the growth of
human rights and some countries are in danger of being on the wrong side of history. And I think
in that case he was very specifically saying that China is in danger of being on the wrong side
of history unless it begins to develop, as it is I think now to a small extent, and we hope to a
greater extent soon, more adherence to principles of democracy and human rights.
PORTER: So you do have a sense that the issues you are working are well integrated with US
SHATTUCK: Yes. I think so. I think so. Let me give you two very hard examples. Hard in the
sense of how much the human rights considerations have been at the forefront of some of the
hardest foreign policy decisions that the President has made. In Bosnia and before that in Haiti
the President had decided to deploy US troops for the first time, I think ever, solely in large
measure because of a human rights crisis in both of those countries. And this commitment of force
to back up human rights diplomacy I think is precisely the kind of development that shows the
mainstreaming of human rights in our foreign policy. Controversial decisions to be sure.
Decisions for which the President was criticized. But decisions which I think resulted in the
saving of a large number of lives in both those countries. And certainly putting the United
States on record as fundamentally opposed to the kind of political violence and genocide in the
case of Bosnia, that was going on.
PORTER: The bureau is well known for the human rights reports that it puts out. How have
those evolved over the years and what importance is placed upon those reports when they come out?
SHATTUCK: Well these reports are the benchmarks annually for human rights all over the
world. There are 194 countries that are now covered, which is more than twice as many as were
covered when the reports first started coming out in 1977. The reports have expanded greatly and
they include not only issues of basic freedom of speech, freedom of association, but also freedom
of religion, women’s rights, issues of worker rights, international labor rights. And every
country now is looked at very closely in a tremendous enterprise that involves gathering
information from our embassies around the world as well as working with nongovernmental
organizations and human rights workers all over the world to gather that information. The reports
I think have increasingly had an impact on foreign policy decisions. I referred earlier to Bosnia
and Haiti… It was the human rights reports above all that were painting the graphic pictures of
horrendous human rights conditions in those two countries that I think had an influence over the
decision to deploy the troops that were sent in. There are many other examples I could cite as
PORTER: The most recent report on China said that there were some positive developments
there. That there was, that China was somewhat more tolerant of dissent. What’s the evidence for
that and that does that analysis still hold today?
SHATTUCK: I think China has been a major focus of our human rights work over these last 5
years. And I think we’ve seen a process coming from the period very soon after the horrendous
massacre that occurred in Tiannamen Square in 1989, and a very negative human rights
climate—systematic abuses—to a slightly more tolerant climate today. And I emphasize
slightly because I think there remain systematic and wide scale human rights abuses in many parts
of China. And I think that has been a result of two major factors; one has been the consistent
policy in recent years of the United States of engaging China very actively on in many, many
diplomatic aspects, and two, in that engagement continuing to have human rights be a major topic
of all our diplomatic discussions with the Chinese, including various ways in which we brought
that to international forums like the UN Human Rights Commission. And I think of course
internally China has evolved somewhat as well. As China’s market economy has grown some forces
for greater freedom have been unleashed in the country. I think the government has been often
resistant to those forces but at this point it recognizes that if it’s going to continue on the
same economic path that it’s on it must continue to evolve in terms of greater basic liberties
and freedoms. But it’s got a long way to go.
PORTER: The Dali Lama recently made a tour through the United States and he said some
positive things about US policy toward China. Any reaction to his remarks?
SHATTUCK: I think that the Dali Lama is in a very difficult position. I think the
conditions of human rights and religious freedom in Tibet are very severe. These are topics that
the United States has not at all resisted raising. In fact it was most recently raised in
discussions at the very highest level with China in Beijing with Secretary Albright was there,
and I was with her. I think the Dali Lama deserves our support in so far as he is seeking to
enter into a dialogue with China about improving the conditions in Tibet. And he has our support
in that respect. He’s made very clear that he is not seeking independence from China, he’s
seeking to improve the human rights and religious freedom conditions. And with that in mind, we
are very strongly and ardently urging China to enter into a dialogue with him and we welcome his
statements that indicate that he believes that that’s the right course.
PORTER: You mentioned raising these issues while you were there and the President is going
to be going to China. How free is the President, or you when you’re in those situations, to raise
human rights issues?
SHATTUCK: We don’t hesitate to raise them. We, I think we have now made it very clear to
China that as we deepen our dialogue with China and try to develop closer relations with China
the issue of human rights is going to remain at the center of our agenda. And we cannot have a
fully developed relationship with China unless human rights improvements occur. So with that in
mind when President Clinton sits down with President Jiang as he did in Washington in October and
as he will again in Beijing in June, human rights will be at the forefront of his discussions.
And that’s true for all other officials as well, including obviously myself.
PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground with John Shattuck, the US
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Printed transcripts and
audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details.
Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan
organization that conducts a wide a range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage
dialogue on world affairs.
PORTER: I want to ask you about the question of the issue of religious persecution. It
seems like this issue is rising in prominence… That a number of NGOs even are sort of picking
up on it; it’s rising on the radar screen all over the place; Congress is taking up the cause.
What extra work does that cause for your bureau and what’s your reaction to the rising prominence
of this issue?
SHATTUCK: Well, religious freedom has become more and more of a topic of our work in the
human rights bureau and certainly the work of other diplomats and others within the State
Department and the White House. We’ve done several reports on religious persecution. We did one
in July of 1997 which focused on some 86 countries where there were problems of religious
freedom. And the Secretary of State has gathered some 20 national religious leaders representing
all the major religions in the United States into an advisory committee that works very closely
with her now to develop new ways of pressing these issues in countries. And the committee has
recently given her a report that makes a lot of recommendations in the area of improving the
conditions for asylum—allowing people who are escaping persecution to come into the United
States; using US assistance in ways to help those who are fighting religious persecution in other
countries. Also developing ties with inter-religious groups as for example in Bosnia, or in
Northern Ireland, where they can play a big role I think in bringing about the peace process. Or
in the Middle East for that matter. All of this means more work. There’s no doubt about it. And
we’re prepared to do that work. We certainly hope that the Congress in its wisdom will provide
the kind of support that we need to do that work.
PORTER: Any pros or cons on Congressional efforts to raise this issue? I mean, does that
make your job more difficult?
SHATTUCK: Well, the Congress in good faith I think is trying to press the issue through
legislation. And some legislation may be appropriate. We’re very concerned and we oppose
legislation that would provide for a kind of one size fits all approach to this. I mean, every
country is different and you have to develop a different strategy for dealing with religious
freedom issues in every country. And what the Congress has done in a bill that recently passed
the House, which we oppose—in fact which Secretary Albright has recommended to the President if
it got to his desk in that form, she would recommend a veto—that bill would impose automatic
sanctions and isolate almost any country that—or any country as to which a finding of religious
persecution took place. The danger of that approach is that it could really boomerang on the
various, very people, the religious minorities that we’re trying to help in countries, who might
end up getting blamed for the United States starting to vote against countries in the World Bank
or to impose economic sanctions, things of that nature. Now there are circumstances in which
sanctions may well be appropriate and we have as a last resort applied them. For example in Burma
or in Sudan, where there is tremendous religious persecution. But applying sanctions in all cases
is not the right way to go. Diplomatic approaches make much more sense. And for that reason we’re
going to work with the Congress to try to shape a bill that can make, that we can both support.
PORTER: I have always sort of equated these sanctions bills with sort of the mandatory
sentencing laws or something, that give the judge no leeway in tailoring things to a specific
SHATTUCK: Well, although they’re really more like sledgehammers in that sense. I mean,
where you come in no matter what the situation is and you whack the other country with a
sledgehammer. And that isn’t necessarily going to produce the result you want and it may in fact
make things a lot worse.
PORTER: To what extent does your office serve as an early warning device?
SHATTUCK: Well, I think we do. I think we should. I think that’s what these human rights
reports are about. I mean, every year there’s a photograph taken of all the countries in the
world and you can see where the problems are developing. Of course those photographs are being
developed on CNN often too. There are other kinds of early warning systems that we’ve promoted
and that we’ve supported. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who’s now the very
distinguished former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, has made it clear that she wants to
strengthen her field operations and field activities of the UN that can begin to make warnings
about countries that are really in grave danger. Certainly the situation in Indonesia right now,
which is really very, very disturbing in terms of the amount of violence and all that’s occurring
there; I think this is something that’s been watched very closely as a result of a lot of the
human rights reporting that’s been done by my bureau and others.
PORTER: You mentioned the UN. What about NGOs? To what extent do you have a relationship
with the very large human rights NGO organizations?
SHATTUCK: Well, they play an absolutely essential role. Both the very large international
NGOs and perhaps even more importantly, the NGOs that are out there in the field and in the
countries where human rights problems occur. One of the things that I’m most proud of in terms of
our bureau is that we have, over the years, not only given active encouragement to NGOs in
countries like Nigeria and Cambodia and Bosnia and Afghanistan and other extremely difficult
situations, but we’ve also begun to fund them. We now have for the first time a major role in our
foreign policy in providing aid, assistance, and it’s all in the area of democracy-building and
particularly support for NGOs. Women’s groups, human rights organizations, local labor groups,
local political party organizations; many of these now are supported very openly and directly
through US assistance funds that are provided by my bureau.
PORTER: What about the big NGOs; Amnesty International or other major human rights
SHATTUCK: They have a major and important role to play. I think they also do a lot of
reporting. And of course they have good access to the media. I think their ability to put the
spotlight on human rights abuses is very important. I think they’ve begun to recognize that it’s
not enough just to do that. Particularly if you’re a large, well-financed international NGO, and
that it’s important to also look for ways of strengthening human rights institutions; both
international institutions like these international criminal tribunals or the UN human rights
field operations, and sometimes domestic institutions like courts and judges and the like. So I
think you’re getting more and more—and there are more NGOs involved. The American Bar
Association is now very active in promoting justice issues and the rule of law. So I think NGOs
play a very critical role. Not just in spotlighting, but also in developing….
PORTER: I imagine there must be sort of a love-hate relationship there. I think they like
the fact that there’s an office like this, taking human rights seriously, that they do have the
ear of US foreign policy. But on the other hand they get your reports and maybe they’re a little
skeptical, wonder about the politics behind those.
SHATTUCK: I think, you’re right. There is certainly a tension. I mean they play a
different role than we do in government. In government we obviously have to take virtually all
aspects of our, the American public’s interest in it’s foreign policy into account. NGOs can
focus on, very exclusively on one. I will say on our reports however, particularly our human
rights reports, that the NGOs have been uniformly very positive about the direction that those
reports and the accuracy of those reports. And just recently one major NGO that had previously
published an annual critique of the human rights reports has decided that the reports have gotten
so good that they’re not going to publish their critique any more. So I take that as a good
example of the cooperative work that we do with our NGOs.
PORTER: That is John Shattuck, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security