As the U.S. State Department was unveiling its
third annual report on "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy" this
week, four of the country's best-known legislators came together to introduce
a bipartisan bill to boost the promotion of democracy throughout the world
and signal a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy.
The ADVANCE Democracy bill was introduced in the Senate by John McCain, a Republican
from Arizona, and Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut. In the House of
Representatives, the bill was introduced by Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia,
and Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California.
The bill seeks to strengthen the U.S. ability to promote democracy in a number
of ways. It would establish a new office of Democracy Movements and Transitions
at the State Department and regional democracy hubs at several embassies abroad.
A new undersecretary of state would oversee democracy-building efforts.
The bill, officially titled the "Advance Democratic Values, Address Non-Democratic
Countries and Enhance Democracy Act of 2005," would also create a democracy
promotion advisory board to provide outside expertise to the government and
authorizes 250 million dollars in increased funding for democracy promotion
over two years, among other measures.
If enacted, the proposed legislation would signal a fundamental change in U.S.
foreign policy by making progress toward democratization a central goal. The
U.S. realpolitik has traditionally allowed the country to ally itself with authoritarian,
autocratic and dictatorial governments.
As made clear in the new State Department report, many current "friends"
of the U.S. do not meet the criteria set out in the bill.
The legislation instructs the State Department to define as "undemocratic"
any country where:
The rulers have come to power outside the rule of law;
Citizens are barred from participating in the political life in the country,
and national legislative bodies are not chosen by free, fair, open, and periodic
elections, by universal and equal suffrage, and by secret ballot;
There is only one political party;
Citizens do not have a right to fully exercise freedom of thought, conscience,
belief, peaceful assembly and association, speech, opinion, and expression;
There is no free media and independent judiciary.
"The promotion of democracy and freedom is simply inseparable from the
long-term security of the United States," McCain said. "When the security
of New York or Washington or California depends in part of the degree on freedom
in Riyadh or Baghdad or Cairo, then we must promote democracy, the rule of law
and social modernization."
Meanwhile, the State Department report, introduced at a Washington press conference
by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, excoriated governments throughout the
world for gross violations of democratic principles and practices.
Details were provided by Michael G. Kozak, U.S. acting assistant secretary
of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.
Asked whether almost daily revelations of additional U.S. human rights abuses
against prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere damaged
the credibility of the U.S. and of the report, Kozak responded, "We know,
and the world knows, that no country, including the U.S., is perfect."
"The difference between us and most of the rest of the world is that when
abuses are uncovered, people see what we do about them. They see American soldiers
But critics took a different view. Amnesty International U.S.A warned that, "as
long as the White House continues to flout international law and blatantly disregard
the Geneva Conventions, many of its policies to promote democracy and human
rights will be greeted with deep skepticism."
The group said the State Department's "worthy efforts are undercut by
the administration's overall approach, making its report tantamount to a business
ethics manual published by Enron."
"The initiatives described in this year's report were laudable, but they
continue to be overshadowed by the (George W.) Bush administration's failure
to hold high-ranking officials accountable for detainee abuse," Amnesty's
Devon Haynie told IPS.
"A credible public diplomacy effort to close the U.S. credibility gap
on human rights requires that the White House support the establishment of an
independent investigation into U.S. detention and interrogation practices."
Asked by journalists how the U.S. assigns priorities to its many concerns,
Kozak repeatedly said, "It's not a case of either/or. You have to try to
move ahead on all fronts at the same time."
But Kozak, who is awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate, acknowledged that
the mission of "spreading democracy" was "full of compromises"
and required great patience and skillful and sometimes tough diplomacy.
The central themes of the democratization program include women's rights, domestic
violence, press, religious and political party freedom, transparency in governance,
independent judiciaries, official accountability, an end to political detention
and torture, and freedom of speech and assembly.
To achieve these goals, the State Department helps train journalists, parliamentarians
and judges, works with non-governmental organizations to improve their political
advocacy, communications and organizational skills, and consults with government
ministries to democratize laws and build institutional capacity.
The U.S. actively uses both "carrots and sticks," Kozak said.
While the job is never easy, he added, it is far more difficult in countries
with which the U.S. does not have full diplomatic relations. He singled out
North Korea, Iran and Cuba.
In these countries, the mission requires "particularly creative approaches,"
(Inter Press Service)