Tuesday, November 18, 2003
As part of the continuing efforts to confront the problem of genocide today, a panel of experts discusses foreign policy responses to human rights violations around the world. The panel included John Shattuck, Gay J. McDougall, and Joshua Muravchik.
JERRY FOWLER: We’ll go ahead and get started and let me welcome you to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
My name is Jerry Fowler and I’m the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience. The idea of having a Committee on Conscience was part of the original vision of the Museum’s founders. In the late 1970s President Carter appointed a Presidential Commission on the Holocaust to recommend an appropriate national memorial to victims of the Holocaust, and he appointed Elie Wiesel as the chair of that commission.
When they reported back to President Carter in 1979 Elie Wiesel and the other commissioners recommended the commission of a living memorial to victims of the Holocaust, and they underscored the word “living.” They recommended that this memorial have three components, a memorial museum, which is what most people think of when they think of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, an educational foundation, which has turned out to be a very, very important part of the work that we do educating people about the Holocaust and the history, and then a third thing they recommended was creation of a Committee on Conscience to address contemporary genocide.
They told the President that a memorial unresponsive to the future would violate the memory of the past. It would violate the memory that they wanted to preserve if the memorial did not address contemporary genocide and threats of genocide. And they observed in 1979 how little had been learned since the end of the Holocaust up to that point. For a whole variety of reasons, that particular idea was set aside as the work was undertaken to build this museum and in April of 1993 the museum opened.
The opening was on the 22nd of April and it was marked by a ceremony out on Eisenhower Plaza, which is on the 15th Street side of the museum, which has been renamed Raoul Wallenberg Plaza. As you may recall, in April of 1993 the former Yugoslavia was disintegrating and it was actually in the fall of 1992 that pictures of emaciated men behind barbed wire were broadcast around the world and this term, “ethnic cleansing” entered the world’s lexicon.
And there was a very dramatic incident during the opening ceremony, which was attended by almost the entire United States Congress, something like 60 heads of state, survivors of the Holocaust, veterans of the armed forces that had liberated the camps, and the President of the United States newly in office at that point, Bill Clinton.
Elie Wiesel delivered the keynote address and near the end of his address he stopped and he turned to President Clinton and said Mr. President, there’s something I cannot not tell you today. I’ve been to the former Yugoslavia and I can’t sleep for what I’ve seen. As a Jew I’m saying you have to do something to stop the killing. People are dying. Children are being killed. Something, anything must be done.
A year to the month after the museum opened genocide began in the tiny Central African country of Rwanda and in the course of 100 days as many as 800,000 people were killed. From the perspective of the Holocaust Memorial Museum that put right back on the table the issue that Elie Wiesel and the Presidential Commission had raised in 1979, the obligation of a memorial to Holocaust victims to address contemporary acts of genocide.
So it was in 1995 that the museum created a Committee on Conscience, which is a committee of the museum’s board of directors, and since that time has attempted to address contemporary issues of genocide, both specific threats of genocide and one thing, for example, that we’re currently focusing on is the continuing crisis in Eastern Congo, as well as this larger problem of how do we do a better job of preventing and responding to genocide.
And certainly what the Presidential Commission said in 1979 is even more true today. Looking back in the 60 years since the end of the Holocaust, one has to question how much has been learned.
So today’s program is part of our continuing efforts to address this challenge of confronting the problem of genocide in our world today. And for our discussion we’re very honored to have an incredibly distinguished panel.
We’re going to start with a lecture by John Shattuck, who was in the middle of the Clinton administration attempts or lack of attempts, and I hope you’ll clarify that, to respond and to deal with in particular Bosnia and Rwanda. As I’m sure everyone in this audience knows, he was the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and his I was going to say recently published but now I understand as of December 1st, he will have published a book recounting his experiences in the Clinton administration called Freedom on Fire: Human Rights Wars and America’s Response, and all of you should feel good that you don’t have to wait until December 1st to actually purchase a copy because my colleagues from the museum book store have it outside along with other books which address this general issue.
To respond to what John has to say we have two additional distinguished panelists who will give us more of an outsider’s perspective on the past decade.
Joshua Muravchik is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has written widely on the subject of human rights and foreign policy going back at least to the mid-1980s when he wrote The Uncertain Crusade, Jimmy Carter and the Dilemmas of Human Rights.
And Gay McDougall, who is the executive director of the International Human Rights Law Group, a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award, which is something that I think has become a mark in our society of a special combination of energy and innovation and drive that marks Gay as a truly special activist in the cause of human rights.
So without further ado I will turn the program over to John, who is going to talk for about 30 or 35 minutes, and then we’ll allow each of the discussants to respond to what he says.
Thank you very much.
JOHN SHATTUCK: Thank you, Jerry, and thank you very much for hosting this discussion of probably the most important topic that we could address not only in the field of human rights but in the field of foreign policy and, more broadly, the field of humanity.
I want to also thank Gay McDougall and Josh Muravchik for joining me in this discussion. We’ve had interactions on this subject over the years and I was pleased this summer to lead a human rights mission to the Congo under the auspices of Gay’s organization, the International Human Rights Law Group.
I also want to recognize former colleagues from the State Department who are here, Susan O’Sullivan and Greg Stanton, who have both been stalwart defenders of human rights in very difficult circumstances. And thank you very much, Jerry, for plugging my book. These events are, of course, opportunities to describe to you what I will publish on December 1st, but which is now available by early exclusive arrangements with the Holocaust Museum, my book Freedom on Fire.
This is a book that’s about dangerous intersections and the two particular intersections that I enter at my own risk and invite you to do the same, the intersection of history and memoir where you are part of history and you write about it, and then perhaps the even more dangerous intersection of government and human rights. Human rights are not always associated with government and in fact are often associated with violations of human rights.
I was privileged to enter the government after the most extraordinary moment for human rights in the last 50 years, the period of approximately 1989 to ’91. It was an extraordinary moment with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the whole Soviet Empire, the fall of apartheid in South Africa, the outbreak of democracy in a number of countries in Central America, and just a great deal of energy unleashed by a movement that had for years been pent up in various ways but finally had its great moment.
And for me that moment was symbolized very dramatically by a meeting that I had in the summer of 1988 in then Stalinist Czechoslovakia where I was on a human rights mission for Amnesty International looking into the situation facing a number of dissidents in Czechoslovakia, the most famous of whom, of course, was Vaclav Havel, but there were many others who were in prison at that time.
I met with a woman who was my Amnesty International contact. She wanted to meet only outdoors because of the fear of electronic surveillance, so we met in an open area where it was not likely than anyone was going to be overhear whispered conversations and she told me about what the situation was for the dissidents in Czechoslovakia, which was quite grim, and the expectation was that this period was going to continue.
I filed my report with Amnesty International and 18 months later as I was riding a train from I think New York to Washington I opened up the paper and there was the same woman who I had spoken to in these clandestine circumstances in Czechoslovakia. She had just been named by President Vaclav Havel the first Czech ambassador to the United States. Her name was Rita Klimova and there she came in 18 months from this dangerous situation and, of course, Havel even more dramatically emerging as the hero of the Velvet Revolution. So it was quite a moment that we all went through and I know we all remember.
Let me summarize what I want to cover in the next half hour or so and then invite my colleagues to comment. I want to first take you inside of that dangerous intersection of government and human rights. I want to tell you what it was like to work on human rights inside a government, in this case, of course, the US government, and what some of the challenges were inside government because I think we can’t really discuss this topic without understanding how government works, particularly at the State Department.
Then I want to talk about some of the forces that were shaping the post-Cold War period after this incredibly dramatic moment where human rights broke free. Then I want to look at the war on terrorism and its impact on human rights briefly and in that context look very specifically about the situation in Iraq and what can be done about the situation today, and then to conclude with some final thoughts about how to intervene to prevent genocide and about what we have learned from this whole period that we have come through, short as it’s been, but full of pain and powerful lessons.
Let’s go inside government. I know you’re familiar with Harry Truman’s famous phrase. Everyone here who works in government knows it, “If you want a friend in Washington bring your dog” and, of course, if you want to work on human rights in Washington you probably ought to bring several dogs and have lots of friends outside because it’s a challenging environment.
You have to learn early how to survive bureaucratic warfare and there are really four battlegrounds for that I’ll just briefly mention: paper, phone calls, meetings, and the press. And in the case of paper, of course, Washington works as all of us do on paper or on e-mail and, of course, a lot of it is documents moving around the system and you have to learn how to get access to the documents that no one will show you, for example, the document that called for the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Rwanda within the approximately two or three days after the crisis broke.
And then you have to avoid being swamped by documents you don’t really need to see. One that I saw and probably didn’t particularly need was a very interesting but not for me document on agricultural conditions in Central Africa which came to my desk about the same time as I didn’t see the proposal to withdraw the peacekeepers from Rwanda.
Phone calls -- even more interesting. In Washington I found, and I think all of you who work in government know, that superiors, that is to say, distant superiors rarely if ever return phone calls from distant subordinates even if they’re just down the hall or down Pennsylvania Avenue. The expectation is that you’re going to get your information to them in documents. You got to move the paper forward. You may be invited to a meeting where you get a chance to speak, but I didn’t find that terribly useful, particularly on urgent matters that needed immediate attention.
And I found one way to get my phone calls returned was to travel and I’d go to Sarajevo or Port-au-Prince or Beijing or other places that were human rights hot spots and then I’d phone back and I’d almost invariably be able to reach people quite above my pay grade since they were interested and sometimes concerned to know what the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights might be doing out in the field. So that was phone calls.
Meetings, of course, are a part of our bureaucratic life everywhere inside and outside government but I quickly found that the only meetings in government that really matter are those that you were not invited to. And, of course, then the challenge is to try to figure out how to get yourself invited, how to find someone with whom you’ve been able to make a phone call, perhaps from a foreign hot spot, who is at a higher level who’s willing to bring you into that meeting or if all else fails how to figure out how to keep your bureaucratic opponents out by getting the scheduler to schedule the meeting when your opponent may be out of town or out of the country.
And then finally the press. One way to move the bureaucracy on human rights, as in any field, is in fact to use the press effectively and it’s risky, to be sure, but it is done. And I found that in the case of a human rights crisis in Haiti, which I’ll talk a little bit more about in a moment, when Haitian boat people fleeing from repression and political killings and crimes against humanity committed in Haiti were being turned around by the US Coast Guard for fear that they would reach US shores and sent back to Haiti. Well, I went and inspected all of this and was very concerned as the human rights person inside government that this was a violation of the human rights of the people who were being forced to return to Haiti to political repression.
So I called publicly when I was in Haiti for a review of the policy of returning these Haitian boat people and I was promptly rebuked the following day in the New York Times for having made this call for a review of the policy. But it was privately congratulated by many people inside the State Department and other places who were equally concerned about this. And three months later the policy was changed so not that my call necessarily produced the policy change, but it was part of the effort to get the policy changed and using the press is an effective way to do that.
Let me then move a little bit beyond these bureaucratic battlegrounds and look more at how policy on human rights is made inside government. For example, a policy change on Bosnia to stop genocide which was increasingly becoming clear will run into almost invariably four foreign policy syndromes that affect most administrations, I’m sure, but they particularly affected the Clinton administration.
First is what I call the inter-agency syndrome where in order to get a change of policy you need to get all the agencies connected with that policy in any way to support the change. And if you’re trying, for example, to arrange for US ground forces to be sent to Bosnia, needless to say, you need the support of the Pentagon, and that one agency, very powerful in this case, can be the block that prevents any change in policy unless you go to the next level, which is to get a Presidential decision.
And this runs into the Presidential decision syndrome whereby a President who may not feel a great deal of public support for sending ground troops to the Balkans is not likely to make a change in policy unless there’s some evidence of that public support. That, of course, leads to the third syndrome, the public opinion syndrome, which is that the public is very unlikely to press for that kind of a tough decision unless the President has taken the bully pulpit and explained why it’s necessary. This leads you to a kind of policy Catch-22 in the context of something as fundamental as changing policy on Bosnia.
And then the fourth and final syndrome is related to all of the other three and it’s what I call the conflict resolution syndrome and that is there is constantly competition for policy time in Washington. Everything is happening at once and who is going to manage to get their policy, their issue, advanced to the highest level of government?
And if it’s something like a conflict that is likely or seems to be leading to genocide, as in the case of Bosnia, the time for maximum leverage is before the conflict actually becomes full blown and the genocide is occurring. But the time that it’s most likely to get attention is after it hits the front pages of the papers and the bodies are dragged through the streets or the genocide breaks out, as in Rwanda. By then, tragically, it is often too late because all the other syndromes then kick in.
So this is Washington. This is reality. This is human rights. But let’s move beyond it because I think it’s possible to do that and take a look at what the world looked like from Washington during the 1990s.
The Cold War was over. The country was increasingly self-absorbed. People were interested in domestic issues, perhaps interested in the peace dividend from the end of the Cold War. President Clinton, of course, famously won his election in 1992 on the slogan, James Carville’s famous, “It’s the economy, stupid,” and so it was a time of inward looking. But right away it was clear from as early as 1990 to 1991 that there were two great forces at work in the world.
First were the forces I’ve talked about, the forces of integration, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet empire, the fall of apartheid, and, equally powerful, the rise of market economies and growth of international trade, technology changes, and incredible communications opportunities across borders in what looked like a world that was coming more together.
But equally powerful and growing quickly during this period were the forces of disintegration. As the Cold War ended and failed states began to emerge, violent ethnic, religious, and political conflict became more and more part of the landscape, often fanned by people like Slobodon Milosevic or those who planned the Rwanda genocide who wanted to use these conflicts that were emerging in this period to advance their own interests.
And this lead to what I call human rights wars, which are wars against civilians, ethnic cleansing, and the whole catastrophe of the use of paramilitaries against civilians populations and certainly the rise of terrorism. Throughout the nineties these forces gained strength. They were fueled to some extent by those who were left behind by expanding markets, by those who were trapped in failed states and dead-end repression, but above all, by cynical leaders. And in the end, all of this in my view ends up turning toward those in leadership positions who used these forces to their own advantage.
Just some basic statistics, by 1995 more than 3,000,000 people had been killed in these human rights wars inside countries such as Somalia, the Sudan, Rwanda, Bosnia, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Haiti, just to name a few. Twenty-five million people by mid-decade had become refugees, rivaling in some ways the refugee crises of the second World War. Twenty billion dollars had been spent by the US on peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance alone and, of course, a growing number of terrorist attacks at US targets.
The forces of disintegration were making strong inroads. About that time, by the mid-decade, the definition of national security was reexamined and slowly broadened. I want to describe that process to give greater emphasis to containing the forces of disintegration by working with other countries to protect human rights, far too late for many of the crises that had come up in the first half of the decade, but developing a new doctrine which I want to examine as we move through this process.
The decade began with Somalia, that is to say, the decade of human rights wars, and Somalia, you will recall, was the peacekeeping tragedy where 18 US Rangers were killed in the UN peacekeeping operation. Black Hawk Down has popularized it and in fact given even today a terrible name to peacekeeping.
The irony is it was the forces of integration, that is, communications technology, that brought this catastrophe right into the living rooms of America and particularly in the Congress when the body of an American soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu on CNN, which captured that terrible moment. There was a very strong Congressional, and inside the administration, outcry and reaction against UN peacekeeping -- as often happens, reacting to a crisis without looking at what the peacekeeping operations needed to do to be improved.
This led to a drafting of a Presidential decision directive known as PDD-25 which put very strong restrictions on the use of peacekeeping forces or the US participation in any peacekeeping operation in almost any circumstance. There were no distinctions made in that case about genocide. No one was particularly thinking in that stage about genocide.
The tragedy is, as Jerry said in his introduction, that in April of ’94, about six months after the Somalia catastrophe, the perfect human rights storm broke and that was the Rwanda genocide. And I should have said earlier, Joyce Leader, who is another former colleague in the State Department and was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Rwanda, is here with us today, and has very first-hand knowledge of this.
The Rwanda genocide broke as PDD-25 was coming into play and there was strong opposition in the Pentagon and the White House to keeping any UN force on the ground despite the fact that a heroic Canadian General, Romeo Dallaire, was commanding a fairly sizeable force, at least in UN terms, of 2500 peacekeepers in Rwanda.
Ten Belgians were killed early in the genocide by the genocide planners, clearly as a way of testing what was going to happen to this peacekeeping force, and the tragedy was that it was withdrawn. The US in many ways led the way but Europeans and others were very active in withdrawing that peacekeeping operation, sending a very dangerous signal to the genocide planners that there would be no consequences for their actions.
And this is really the first lesson that should be learned about genocide, that you have got early on as the process seems to be gathering strength to send signals that there will be consequences for moving forward. And I write in my book that this genocide in Rwanda could have been prevented had those signals been sent earlier and had warnings that were coming from General Dallaire and his forces been heeded in the UN and had the PDD-25 not had this politically disastrous effect internally and had other activities not been affecting us such as the weakness of President Clinton politically in the spring of ’94 in the controversies that he was facing at that stage over gays in the military where he lost a great deal of support in the military, healthcare reform collapsing, and, of course, he was also preoccupied by other foreign policy crises.
The small group inside the State Department who were trying to prevent the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping forces really had no traction in this environment. I arranged in the early stages of the genocide to be sent on a mission to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania to sound out the leaders of those countries about whether they would contribute forces to a new peacekeeping force after the withdrawal of the UN force.
And I found that they were all willing but they all looked to the United States for logistical and general leadership in the military area and, of course, that was not forthcoming. I was undercut as those of us who were trying to build this force were by the unwillingness of the White House or the Pentagon to provide that kind of logistical assistance.
I will never forget, and in this hall of witnessing I should offer my witness, the scene from several thousand feet and then dropping to about 500 in the very small plane that I was traveling in the region on, including over Rwanda. I’ll never forget the scene that I saw in the Kagara River, which is a river bordering Rwanda and Tanzania, and from a couple of thousand feet it looked as if there were logs floating down that river and there was a sawmill somewhere to which they were being sent.
But as I dropped to 500 feet and I got the pilot to go as low as he could I could see very clearly these were bodies choking the river. They were floating down to the beautiful Lake Victoria where they were being fished out for about a half a penny apiece by young boys who were being paid by the Tanzanian government to prevent the pollution of the lake.
That was a terrible, terrible moment and I also very shortly after the genocide was the first international traveler across Rwanda and there was deathly silence. And you saw these beautiful crops growing and, of course, all the hands that had planted them had been cut down. My colleague from the State Department who was with me coined the phrase which I think captures Rwanda perfectly. He said it was the machete equivalent of a neutron bomb. The entire landscape denuded and destroyed of people.
Of course, the impact of this genocide was ten years of war and humanitarian catastrophe in Central Africa, especially the Congo, which I’ve visited frequently since then, including this summer. But I will say that although nothing was done to stop it I think the Rwanda genocide has had a profound effect. It had almost immediately a profound effect on the US response to other human rights wars in the case of Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
I remember a State Department meeting in May of 1994 as this horror was unfolding and those of us who were concerned about being shackled by the doctrine of PDD-25 also discussed the shackles that had been placed on the United States by Cold War military doctrine, which essentially called for overwhelming force or no force at all. We began to wonder whether a new doctrine of diplomacy backed by limited force whereby threats to those who were setting out to commit genocide or crimes against humanity could be credibly delivered by diplomats as a way of preventing this kind of activity.
This new doctrine actually came into play only four months later in Haiti where, as you remember, a democratically elected president had been overthrown by a military regime which was committing widespread political killing and crimes against humanity. It was a major refugee problem, as I said before, for Florida and many other southern states and so the issue became a domestic political issue. It was no longer something happening far away in Rwanda. It was happening right close to the United States.
As a result, and I also think influenced by the catastrophic events in Rwanda, there was more agreement within the interagency process and leadership by the President to develop a multi-national force to use as a way of trying to remove the people in Haiti who were causing the human rights catastrophe, General Cedras and his regime, and to reinstate the democratically elected president.
This was done under rules of engagement that were much, much stronger than they had been for the peacekeepers in Rwanda and as they were at the time in Bosnia and so it was an effective operation.
However, tragically, because of the fact that there wasn’t enough consensus politically and there was a lot of opposition in the Congress to continuing in Haiti the force was withdrawn within six months. This led to a reversal internally. The process of nation building, which is such a critical part of these kinds of interventions, was not attended to.
Finally let me go to the Balkans and look at a bigger, more complicated, and in the end, I think, important lesson for how we prevent genocide. The Balkan crisis, of course, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, was downplayed by the first Bush administration and then later by the first Clinton administration.
As the battle for the control of Yugoslavia between the various contending former communist leaders who were fanning the flames of religious differences took place, Secretary of State James Baker notoriously said in 1991, We have no dog in that fight, essentially saying that the United States had no strategic interests in what was happening in Yugoslavia. Until mid-1995, the Clinton administration was still affected by the Somalia crisis although slowly, I think, the Rwanda experience and the success in Haiti led to a change in policy in Bosnia.
But what you had was a debate, a very sterile debate in my view, that was taking place in Washington for almost four years between those who looked at what was happening in Yugoslavia as the product of so-called ancient hatreds, which was essentially a way of saying this is their war, their crisis, they’re killing each other, there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s been happening for centuries; versus those like myself and others in the government who were trying to change our policy and produced evidence of systematic violations of human rights instigated by political leaders like Milosevic and President Tudjman of Croatia during this period.
There was effectively very weak peacekeeping, mostly European, during this time, a UN peacekeeping operation with very limited rules of engagement and not the ability to fight back or to do something to stop human rights abuses that were being committed right before their eyes. And the US role was essentially limited to occasional air strikes mounted through NATO. This inevitably led to disaster over those four years in which more than 200,000 people were killed in a genocidal war.
By May of 1995 the absurdity of the peacekeeping operation became crystal clear as 300 peacekeepers were taken hostage by the Bosnian Serbs. To arrange for their release the commander of the UN forces at the time essentially promised the Serbs that there would be no more air strikes and this blatant appeasement led to what was effectively the greatest collective failure of collective security in Europe in half a century and that was Srebrenica.
Srebenica, you may remember, was a town in Eastern Bosnia overrun by the Bosnian Serbs in early July of 1995. Shortly thereafter women and children began to emerge from out of the woods in Tuzla with almost no men. What had happened to the men? That was the great question.
Remarkably, there was very little intelligence on this issue because up until that time the intelligence gathering apparatus, particularly the aerial surveillance that’s available through US intelligence efforts, had not been tasked to look for crimes against humanity and genocide and things that might explain what had happened to these 7,000 men.
I had made several trips to Bosnia in the previous year and whenever I came back some of the other elements of the bureaucracy basically tried to make sure I didn’t go back again very soon because there were negotiations underway in Geneva to try to placate the parties and stop the war that way. They felt that human rights investigations would not be helpful to that. But in July of 1995 I and Dick Holbrook and a number of others who were pressing for a change in policy said we have got to find out what happened to these men.
I went to Tuzla, the city where the refugees were coming in. I had a tip that there were some men beginning to emerge and no one knew where the others were. I had information about who the men were and how I could find them and how I could interview them so I did.
I interviewed six men who described to me their survival of their own executions. They essentially had been with the other 7,000 in various places around Srebrenica, were pushed into open pits after being fired upon by the Bosnian Serbs, and pushed into a mass grave and left for dead. These few survivors were able to escape.
There were two heroes I want to pay tribute to in this particular struggle and they were two low-level CIA agents who when they read my report when I returned, knowing that there had not been a willingness to task the CIA to look for this kind of intelligence previously, stayed up all night around the clock for two days rifling through thousands and thousands of aerial surveillance photographs to see if they could find photographs that matched the description of the survivors of the Srebenica massacre of the places they had been held and the ways they had been shot. And they found photographs. They found photographs of disturbed earth in exactly the places we determined. They found photographs of men who were lined up and held in warehouses.
Within ten days those photos were taken to the UN Security Council and within two weeks the policy changed and NATO began to engage in a much more aggressive effort to back diplomacy by force, bombing Bosnian Serb positions. A process of negotiation began whereby I went out into the field and Holbrook and others were negotiating with the leaders, Milosevic, Tudjman, et cetera, to get them to stop. I was able to present information about real-time atrocities that were being committed even after Srebenica and then Holbrook was able to get these people to stop.
I just want to read one very brief passage in the book, which I think gives you the full flavor both of what I saw and what the reaction was back home: “When we reached the Tuzla Airport tarmac I was hit by the full force of the war. In the blazing noonday sun thousands of gaunt and disheveled figures, mostly women and children, were lining up for food.
“I could see a steady stream of new arrivals stumbling out of the woods from the east making their way slowly across the fields beyond the airport then collapsing into the Red Cross tents once they reached the camp.
“Serb gunners on the hill to the north had sporadically shelled the airport in recent weeks and the risk of new atrocities were growing by the hour as the tent swelled with refugees. UN and Red Cross workers were feverishly trying to move the sea of humanity into makeshift shelters like the cinder block schoolhouse where later that day I interviewed Muslim men whose firsthand accounts of the mass killings at Srebenica would shock the world and finally lead four months later to an end to the war in Bosnia. But getting to that distant point would be a long story whose outcome was never certain.
“When I returned to Washington on August 3rd Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State, asked me to brief the senior State Department staff on what I had seen and heard in Bosnia. As I described the horror of Srebenica the Deputy Secretary’s elegant seventh floor conference room became deathly silent.”
I want to just briefly in five minutes turn to today and look at the situation that we face in light of 9/11 with this history of the nineties behind us and undoubtedly the future of further efforts to commit genocide such as those I’ve been describing.
If there is any good news from 9/11, and there’s none to be spoken of, really, it is the fact that Americans have been violently jolted into recognizing that what was going on in all these distant places had a direct and immediate impact here at home and that the swamps of human rights abuse and repression are indeed the places from which terrorists emerge.
Certainly it was no accident that al-Qaeda was given harbor in Afghanistan and that it was important early on to —— Taliban which were harboring them. But I think what I’m concerned about is that we may have in our effort to address terrorism mounted a war on human rights, and really five aspects of it are particularly concerning after the successful beginning.
First, I think, is the fact that we look at the war on terrorism as a kind of zero-sum game whereby any country that is with us essentially gets an approval or at least not an reprimand from us for conducting political repression inside that country. And it’s no accident that Russia has become much more aggressive in Chechnya, that China is acting against its Muslim minority population, that Indonesia now has many Guantanamo camps for dissidents.
Second, I think there is a war on civil liberties here which is an unfortunate outgrowth of the war on terrorism. And, of course, today we have just seen the fact that this issue has gotten into the federal courts in a very important way in this breathtaking assertion of power by the Attorney General to designate any American citizen an enemy combatant and thereby strip that person of the Bill of Rights. That issue is now being reviewed in the courts.
Third, I think we are unfortunately engaging in systematic attacks against international law in the war on terrorism. This is the very law that we need if we are going to stop genocide, certainly the genocide convention, which is the heart of this, but also other aspects of the international treaties. At this point we are saying that in the interest of security we can disregard them.
Fourth, we have substituted for this doctrine of multi-lateral humanitarian intervention which took place in Bosnia, belatedly, to be sure, and later in Kosovo and then in East Timor, a new doctrine of preemptive unilateral war whereby we assert essentially the right to enter any country even when there is no direct and immediate threat in order to proclaim a war of liberation. I fear that this will, given where we are in Iraq and all the difficulties that are emerging there, give a very bad name to the humanitarian intervention which we desperately need.
Finally I worry that the war on terrorism is risking the destruction of our soft power or our moral power, the power that can win friends and allies and that comes from the commitment to human rights and the rule of law in international institutions and instead turning ourselves into an apparent military fortress.
So I think there are other ways to do this. The one thought that I will leave you before turning it over to my colleagues is that there are five very quick lessons from the human rights wars of the nineties. First I think we need a Presidential decision directive on genocide. If we can have one on peacekeeping there ought to be a bureaucratic imperative that says it is the policy of the United States to stop genocide and I’m sure that this would be a very bi-partisan effort. Either a Democratic or a Republican administration should be willing to embrace that.
Second, the strategy for stopping genocide must be multi-lateral. We need friends and allies. We cannot do this alone. We certainly cannot go in the way we’ve gone to Iraq alone. The Iraq intervention could have been accomplished in a different way and, unfortunately, it is the unilateral aspect that is giving it a bad name.
Third, we should focus on prevention before intervention. We need to send signals to those who are planning genocide that they’re not going to get away with it and that doesn’t necessarily involve military power. It involves all the things that we have in our toolbox from arms embargoes to jamming of hate radios, which should have been done, to imposing multi-lateral economic sanctions which was done in South Africa.
Fourth, we should be willing to use force when diplomacy has been exhausted. I’m a human rights hawk, as I write in this book, and I will stand behind the proper use of force in any circumstance where there is an ongoing genocide and it’s broadly multi-lateral and it doesn’t risk a wider conflict and there is a commitment.
Fifth and finally to staying the course and nation building after the military intervention is over, we learned the hard way in Haiti that that doesn’t work and I think we have learned the right way in Bosnia that we need to stay. And I certainly hope that we will move forward in Iraq by renouncing the doctrine of preemptive, unilateral intervention, agreeing to turn over nation building to international agencies while continuing the US military command, and I would just as a footnote to that say opening the bidding process for all construction contracts so that there is more of an interest on the part of the international community to participate.
I will just end with a wonderful quote which says everything that I could say but better and it’s from an Egyptian activist, someone who both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration have endorsed, and his name is Saad Edin Ibrahim and he states very effectively the main point of my book just before he was sentenced to prison last year for criticizing the human rights record of the Egyptian government.
He said, “We are being persecuted because we have dared to speak openly what millions of others think privately. Building democracy and human rights is the only way to stop terrorism.”
This is, I think, a message of hope but it is also a warning, and it’s the warning of my book that if we sacrifice human rights in the name of fighting terror in the long run we will only have more terror.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you, John, for that very thought provoking presentation. What we’re going to do now is have responses by first Gay and then Josh of about 15 minutes each and then we’ll have time for discussion from the audience.
And one thing I should add, that Saad Ibrahim was sentenced to prison last year but now is a free man and was recently and may still be in the United States but was given an award by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights for his defense of human rights.
But now I’m happy to turn it over to Gay.
GAY MCDOUGALL: Thank you. I thought that Josh would go next but I’m happy to do so. I just want to say that I think that when I think of John Shattuck and what he was able to accomplish in government if there’s any one word that comes to my mind first it’s Srebenica and your having forced that out of silence into public exposure and into the realities that shaped the peace accord and I think we all owe you a debt of thanks for that.
I was in Rwanda just a couple of months after the genocide there and I, too, traveled throughout the country all the way to the DRC border. The law group that I worked for has been in Democratic Republic of Congo since 1994 and actually I myself was there when the first civil war started in the Kivus and I was right in the Kivus.
We’d been in Bosnia since 1995 helping to pick up the pieces there. We’ve been in Afghanistan for five years. We worked in the killing fields of Cambodia since 1993, been in Haiti, et cetera, and the thing that is clear, I mean, these societies, there’s one striking similarity about the situation there and about the international community’s response and that is that in every single situation we were too late. We were far too late.
Once the killing begins, actually once we even have a hint of killing, the options left are limited. They are in some cases compromising and, given the realities that we deal with in the world and in our economy here, et cetera, they are unsustainable.
I would say that in reading John Shattuck’s book and his comments on the grounds and the criteria and the ground rules for intervention rather than taking up the duty to protect the importance of accountability for abuses and for staying the course and building the nation afterwards, all of that I think are absolutely critical factors.
But what I want to focus on is this question of early warning because I think that we have to all shift our temporal focus, if you will, with respect to early warning. It is not when there are rumors of impending genocide. It’s far, far before that. If we had acted months before the genocide in Rwanda we would still have been too late.
Most of the discussion of early warning signals is focused on the earliest point at which a pattern of atrocities emerges to the international observer and even at that point we have failed to act well and timely. Once the campaign of murders begins we’re talking about widespread violence against civilians, of course, leading ultimately to genocide, crimes against humanity, cruel and inhumane treatment, other serious violations of human rights and of the laws of war, but the point I want all of us to focus is that by then the society has already imploded. The crisis has begun. By then the fires have already been ignited and by that time, as I said, the options are limited.
Look at Rwanda and Bosnia, Cambodia, DRC. Few in the international community really cared about those countries before they started to implode. These were all conflicts that were born out of longstanding inequalities that made those societies inherently unstable. The basis upon which they were built was unsustainable.
Our early warnings have to focus on an ongoing assessment of the degree to which these societies are built around fundamental principles of human rights, equality and nondiscrimination, popular ownership of a government, effective local government structures, a judicial process seen as fair and effective as an enforcer of rights but also as a mechanism to which one can bring ordinary societal conflicts for resolution and a trusted body in that respect and, of course, accountability and the rule of law and finally one area that I think we are far too reticent to focus on and that’s economic and social development and the respect for economic, social, and cultural rights.
The early warning signals must include extreme inequality in a society, political marginalization of social exclusion, particularly when it seems to be based on or grounded in ethnic, religious, or racial competition for limited resources, oppression based on culture, competition for power or for jobs in a society.
There is a wide array of forms of second class citizenship, if you will, but if one looked at the Kivus early in the nineties and the grievances that were being voiced there I think there is where you see the seeds of early warning.
How are we helping communities and societies manage diversity? Are we focusing on issues of equality and nondiscrimination? These are things that we are not willing to look at until the time for true preventative action has lapsed.
I think we’ve also got to help countries manage better their national wealth and their natural resources in ways that will eliminate the incentive to fuel conflicts for economic gain or to fuel conflicts in order to gain power either in the country or in other societies. We have to find ways to reduce internal competition for benefits in societies.
Entrenched corruption, plunder of state resources, unaccountable management of tax and customs revenues, these are the kinds of things that create incentives among both citizens and rogue international actors to engage in conflict entrepreneurship, making profit from fueling the flames of fissures that might be underlying the surface in societies.
And I’ll say the good governance point here in this regard is that there’s got to be transparency and equity in the management of national wealth and natural resources. There’s got to be effective regulatory schemes that control exploitation of resources and distribute them in a fashion considered equitable within those societies.
For the international community we have to exert the necessary pressure on corrupt national leadership and against economic actors internationally, including economic actors in our own country, by using sanctions, by conditionality, diplomatic pressure, what have you, but also criminal and civil penalties within our own country here at home.
We’ve got to be and be seen to be waging a concerted campaign against conflict entrepreneurs. The conflict diamonds campaign is a perfect example. But we lack credibility in that regard. When we do things such as lifting the arms embargo against Rwanda in July when it’s clear to many, many actors that Rwanda was playing an undesirable, if you will, role in the impending genocidal situation in Eastern Congo that had Rwanda’s hand prints and Uganda’s all over it.
And we’ve got to offer credible opportunities for economic and social development through legitimate avenues of aid and trade. We can’t do that and be credible in doing that while we are at the same time reducing foreign assistance levels to the lowest possible denominator.
Finally I think we’re fully aware now that a strong and a vibrant civil society is a critical aspect of preventing atrocities, promoting democracy, the rule of law, and accountability. Both peace and human rights require long-term commitment from all sectors of a society and, depending on the prevailing climate, civil society groups who are promoters and defenders of human rights may be working with the government, against the state, or around the government.
But in all cases I think they have to have the capacity to create a domestic demand side pressure for good governance and strong institutions of human rights. This is an aspect of preventing atrocities that I think we pay far too little attention to. There is some lip service to it in the international community but when it gets down to it there’s very, very little put on the line in favor of creating an enabling environment for civil society actors to play the role that they must in human rights societies.
In closing I just want to raise one point and make one comment that perhaps we might discuss further about some of the institutional mechanisms that exist now that may play a useful or helpful role in the long-term monitoring of the health of societies in what I’d say low-intensity environments. We are a party to a number of international human rights treaties, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention Against Racial Discrimination, the Torture Convention, and all of these treaties set up treaty monitoring bodies and it’s really the job of those international bodies elected by all of the treaty state parties.
It’s their job to on a regular basis day in, day out, year in, year out monitor what’s going on in countries on the ground with respect to these kinds of structures, policies, practices, the realities on the ground that are in my view the real early warning signals.
Now, the US government has not had a great history of participating in these institutions. It took us a long time to ratify the treaties that we have ratified. There are many more out there that we should ratify. But I think we must make it our business to get to these treaty monitoring parties the kinds of resources and ultimately the kind of respect internationally, institutionally, from governments within the UN, et cetera, that make them a viable option for this kind of long-term witness to the early warning signs of societies, of countries, imploding, and leading to the gross violations of human rights, the genocidal situations that we all deplore.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you very much, Gay. And now we’ll turn to Josh and I should just say that we’re doubly grateful to Josh for coming today, not just for taking the time to be with us but he’s also fighting off a killer sinus infection and cold. And so he’s here fighting illness as well as his busy schedule so thank you, Josh.
JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: Well, you’re welcome. I’m very glad to be here. I’m honored to have this invitation and I wish, John, that your book rockets to the top of the best seller list.
Well, it’s not out yet. I’ve had a chance to read a few chapters and found them intriguing and I am eager to absorb the rest of it and I think it’s a very valuable book.
What I’d like to do here is to try to generate a little controversy and to challenge you, John, on part of what you’ve presented. What I particularly like about you presentation and your book and I think is something that I strongly agree with is your emphasis on the importance of human rights and democracy as goals or features of US foreign policy and the argument you make that they are inseparable from the other goals of US foreign policy that are usually spoken of in terms of national security.
But I think where in your talk today you got wildly off the track was when you spoke about Iraq and the war against terror but rather than turn this session into a debate about Iraq I think that your reaction to Iraq may in a sense reflect or symbolize a larger disagreement that I have with you and it might be more interesting to talk about that larger disagreement, and that is a disagreement about the relation of American power to the humanitarian goals that you are such an eloquent spokesman for and also the relation of international institutions, in particular the UN, to those goals.
And the argument that I want to make is that just as it’s important to appreciate the value to the United States and to the self-interests of the United States, as I think you so tellingly describe, of standing for these principles of human rights and democracy so there is a great value to the advancement of those principles for the United States to have a robust presence in the world, including a robust presence in defense of its own interests and that in fact whether you look at it from one side or the other it’s a mistake to draw too sharp a distinction between American ideals and American interests and American power.
The two greatest victories for human rights of the 20th century were the American and allied victory in World War II and the American and allied victory in the Cold War. And those were victories that defeated great monsters who threatened the human rights of all citizens in the world and those were both conflicts that the United States undertook with this very, I would say, inextricably mixed agenda, that is, fighting for certain principles but also fighting for self-defense and self-interest.
I think that the emphasis that you put on multi-lateralism and on international organizations is likely to be defeating to the goals that you are trying to advance; that is, the big question for the peace and freedom of the world as I see it is how assertive a foreign policy the United States will have, a country that has a very substantial tradition of isolationism and an ever present temptation to walk away from things and turn our backs on the problems of the world.
And in a sense the very heart of your book is a very brilliantly evocative portrayal of those isolationist instincts getting the better of us in 1992, ’93, ’94, especially in respect to Bosnia and Rwanda. And, of course, World War II itself was in part a consequence of the isolationist triumph in the United States in the 1920s and ’30s and this isolationist triumph went hand in hand with a view to international organization, then the League of Nations, as the mechanism that would provide for international peace and security and, although it was less on people’s lips in those days, for international human rights.
I think by the same token in the more recent times the impulse of US isolationism goes hand in hand with a theme of let’s give a bigger role to the UN. The UN is rarely an institution that solves problems either of peace or of human rights. It’s mostly an institution that serves as an excuse for US inaction and that was specifically the policy of President Clinton in his first two years in office when he said explicitly I’ve been elected to help us focus on domestic issues. I’m going to focus like a laser on the economy, and what we’re going to do is look to a world in which more problems are resolved by the UN. And that was a big part of the evasion of responsibilities in Bosnia and in Rwanda.
The fact is that the UN is and has been from day one largely a broken instrument. It doesn’t play the role as bulwark of international peace and security that its founders envisioned for it and, worse still, the UN is not only lacking in real power but it also has squandered all its moral power.
And particularly when we come to the subject of human rights we find that the UN is an institution with an utterly disgraceful record. We have this thing called the UN Human Rights Commission which in each of its last two meetings, 2003 and 2002, adopted resolutions endorsing suicide bombing. That’s the voice of the UN Human Rights Commission chaired this year by Libya.
So you can point to some elements of policy towards human rights on the part of the United States that you find to be defective although I take extreme exception to your phrase, and I hope you’ll think reusing it, a war on human rights, which seems to me to be just wildly over the top.
But you point to some failures on the part of the United States in regard to human rights but the failures on the part of the United States such as they are pale in comparison to the despicable record of the UN in this area. And so I think that the main argument I want to make with you is that, again, without going into the particulars of the war in Iraq or the war on terrorism, if we are to achieve the goals that you sketch out of a much more robust defense of international human rights and democracy around the globe the path to that is not tying down the United States with Lilliputian cords through the UN but is one that looks toward a robust assertion of American power in the world.