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J. Crowley: The U.S. Will Promote Human Rights, Democracy, and Development Around the World

Presented at an International Symposium on The United States and the United Nations: Governance and the Challenge of Contemporary Crises, June 18-19, 2002

As a member of the House International Relations Committee, including its European and Middle East subcommittees, I work regularly to encourage the United States to play an active role on the international scene. This conference has a very ambitious agenda. It touches on some of the most pressing international issues that this country as well as the United Nations and the entire international community must address: terrorism, AIDS, international justice or injustice, and global development, just to name a few of the major issues before us. The American people have an interest in pressing international issues. Some, like terrorism, touches very directly and in their communities, as did the attack of September 11. Others, like the unchecked spread of HIV/AIDS and the poverty in which a large portion of human lives find themselves, touch us all as human beings.

We reach out to the people in developing countries to address these social and economic problems not because we benefit in some way, although I would argue that occasionally we do. We reach out to them because we believe that every human being is entitled to a basic standard of living that includes access to clean water and health care, the right to an education, the right to work, and the means to have and support a family.

The US government appropriates funds for a wide range of programs designed to improve the quality of life in less developed countries. As part of this administration’s 2003 fiscal year budget, the administration requested more than $2.7 billion for development assistance and child survival programs, almost $950 million for food aid, $100 million for refugee assistance, and $1.4 billion for global health programs, including $500 million in bilateral programs to combat HIV/AIDS. Congress has appropriated millions more to fund emergency assistance and development programs in Afghanistan, which has experienced tremendous upheaval.

Many of our programs are bilateral, of course, and we work through the great institution, in my opinion, of the United Nations in many of those bilateral programs. The United States is the largest financial supporter of the UN, contributing about $3.1 billion in assessed and voluntary contributions to the UN system, and those records are from the year 2001. The United States also contributes military observers or police officers to eight UN missions, and US troops work in cooperation with UN operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor.

In November 1999 the US Congress passed legislation enabling the payment of $926 million to cover US arrears in the United Nations and encouraged key reforms in the UN system. The compromise reached by the United States and the United Nations not only ensured that the US would continue to bear, and rightfully so, its share of the financial burden, but also help rebuild US confidence, which is lacking, in the UN system. The United States is an active participant in all elements of the United Nations’ work, and the US has made the greatest contributions, I believe, in three main and specific areas.

First, in peacekeeping. Congress supports the recommendations of the secretary general’s Panel on Peacekeeping Reform, such as improved UN planning capacity and better training and equipment for UN troops operating in uncerertain environments. UN peacekeepers must have training suitable for their missions, must operate under rules of engagement appropriate to the threat, and have strong enough logistical and administrative support at UN headquarters to enable commanders on the field to solicit guidance and assistance when needed.

The United States also supports UN efforts to facilitate political transitions so that war-torn societies can rebuild themselves swiftly and on democratic foundations. The UN Mission in East Timor is an excellent example of the successes that the United Nations is capable of. The UN’s work to help establish judicial institutions, administer electoral systems, and foster economic development helped facilitate East Timor’s peaceful transition to independence and democracy, I think something that we all celebrated very, very recently. The United States has also promoted initiatives to build local and regional capacity so countries can begin to address problems on their own. We have trained and equipped peacekeepers from African countries, for example, to help regional militaries develop the capability to operate in a democratic arena with respect for civilians.

Second, in economic development. The United States works diligently through the United Nations and other multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and regional development banks to address health care, family planning, economic development, job creation, and other social and economic issues that are the root causes of poverty. We help address these social ills because it is the right thing for a wealthy country like the United States to do.

But President Clinton during his administration realized that issues like AIDS and poverty must be treated as national security issues as well. These scourges affect the security and stability of societies and make them more likely to fall victim to in-fighting and war. They further destroy the economic health of developing countries, making it less likely that they will create jobs, get out of debt, and become active participants in our global economy.

Economic stagnation often leads to widespread joblessness, a sense of hopelessness among the people, and the state’s increasing inability to provide basic services. Disillusioned young people lose their stake in the system, often leading to social unrest, interethnic tensions, and religious extremism. These trends have without doubt contributed to the widespread resentment of the United States around the world and thus contributed to the success of groups like Al Qaeda.

Poverty, economic underdevelopment, and governance by corrupt and dictatorial rulers promote conflict and instability and nourish anti-American sentiment. They are thus as much a threat to the United States’ national security as a terrorist who tries to bring down an airplane or fly them, as they did on September 11, into two of the major symbols of our country. Just as we are spending billions of dollars to eradicate the threat posed by Al Qaeda, we must spend billions of dollars more to eradicate the threat posed by poverty and disease in the developing world. Though the United States is one of the largest aid donors in the world, we give less per capita in foreign aid than any other developed country. Foreign aid represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of our entire federal budget. We need to spend more. We need to do more to address the problems of the developing world, and that number is simply embarrassing.

Third, ensuring accountability and promoting international justice. The United States is the largest contributor to the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and I strongly supported the establishment of special courts for Cambodia and for Sierra Leone. These courts are politically troublesome to establish and expensive to administer. The Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals cost approximately $100 million per year to operate, but the value of these tribunals is priceless as both play critical roles in the social, political, and emotional reconstruction of Rwanda and the Balkans.

The United States works diligently to promote respect for democracy, human rights, and good governance around the world. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to foster the growth of civil society, enhance civil control of the military, develop political parties, and institutionalize the rule of law. Whether a country respects human rights and whether it guarantees religious and political freedoms to its people are critical criteria in the development of US policy toward that country. The United States does more to promote human rights and democracy overseas than many countries do at home.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration recently made a policy decision that greatly undermined the United States’ image abroad as a defender of human rights. Less than two months ago the administration announced that it would remove the United States’ signature from the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, an unprecedented step that has damaged the moral credibility of the United States and serves as a US repudiation of the notion that war criminals and perpetrators of genocide should be brought to justice. The administration’s unsigning of the Rome Statute places the United States in the company of notorious human rights abusers like Iraq, North Korea, China, Cuba, Libya, and Burma. The House of Representatives has since added insult to injury by passing legislation that would prohibit the use of funds to assist, cooperate with, or provide any support to the court.

The court is a reality. The Rome Statute has been ratified by the sixty countries needed for the court to come into full existence. The court will function with or without US involvement. Our refusal to play a role in the court’s creation and administration harms US national interests in three primary ways.
First, a prohibition on US support will not protect American citizens from the court’s jurisdiction. Opponents of the court argue that US servicemen and government officials will be subject to politically motivated show trials. But since national courts have primary jurisdiction and since the US military is committed to fully investigating any charges of war crimes committed by US military personnel, the military has nothing to fear from an ICC prosecutor run amok.

Ironically, given that the administration has justified its rejection of the court by saying that the court places Americans at risk of politically motivated show trials, our lack of participation could put Americans in even greater danger. Defense Department officials, for example, would be unable to respond to court investigators when they ask for information that would possibly help exonerate an American serviceman brought before the court. That American citizen could receive an inadequate defense precisely because the United States rejected the court.

Second, the administration’s refusal to participate in this important judicial mechanism undermines the United States’ commitment to pursue justice for war criminals. Lacking US legal expertise and, more important, intelligence information, it will be more difficult for the court to ensure that war criminals from Iraq, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and other such countries face justice for their atrocities.

Third and perhaps most important, in the long term the court is a tool of international justice recognized by the international community. US rejection of this institution undermines the United States’ credibility as a nation that stands up for democracy, good governance, and the rule of law.

I’m hopeful that the administration will work to compensate for this lack of leadership by enhancing its bilateral development assistance. In his May 6 announcement of the administration’s decision regarding the ICC, Undersecretary of State Mark Grossman said the United States will work with Congress to seek funding for efforts to bring war criminals to justice and to provide political, financial, technical, and logistical support to any post-conflict state that seeks to implement humanitarian law domestically. Such efforts are critical if, as Undersecretary Grossman correctly stated, the best way to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes is through the spread of democracy, transparency, and the rule of law.

Congress looks forward to working with the administration on a greatly enhanced US assistance program that would promote democracy and respect for human rights around the world and thereby help render the work of the International Criminal Court unnecessary. The United States will continue its active engagement to promote human rights, democracy, and economic development around the world. The question, of course, is to what extent the US will commit itself. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle to increase US involvement overseas, as I believe that we have a responsibility as the wealthiest nation on this earth to share some of our riches with those less fortunate than we are.

I will also work to convince those who are not motivated by altruism that poverty and economic stagnation affects US national interests. Whatever the motivation, whether altruism or self-interest, the important part is that the United States continue its efforts to make the world a safer, more prosperous, and better place to live for us and for our future generations. I think we have to be a part of the global community. I think we have to be engaged. We can’t retreat. We have to move forward because I think we all benefit in the end.