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Human Rights Promotion as a U.S. Policy Priority

Robert Berschinski

Robert Berschinski at PDAA lunch program, 12 February 2018 (A. Kotok)

(14 February 2018) Editor’s note. The following essay is drawn from remarks prepared by Robert Berschinski at the PDAA lunch program on Monday, 12 February 2018. Berschinski is Senior Vice President of Human Rights First, where he oversees the organization’s work advancing a U.S. foreign policy rooted in a strong commitment to human rights, universal values, and American ideals. More details about his background and the program itself are found on the program’s web page.

Thank you Ambassador Efird and Ambassador Morris, and all the members of PDAA for having me here with you today.

Frank is a very tough act to follow, but I’ll give it a shot.

Greta, your prompt for the session included the question “Should promoting human rights and democracy be an important part of U.S. foreign policy?”

My response is that, based on American history, our self-conception as a nation, and frankly our interests within the international system, there is simply no way that this issue cannot be included as an important component of our foreign policy.

I would add that my experience as a diplomat demonstrated quite clearly that standing up for individual rights and the rule of law—and being seen as doing so—pays the United States significant dividends as a matter of U.S. national interest.

To a certain extent it sounds trite, but I think there’s no doubt that America benefits from being seen as representing a set of ideals as much as a territory, and that we do well for ourselves when we’re seen to be acting in ways that go beyond our immediate, narrowly-defined self-interest.

It’s not news that human rights and liberal democracy are under strain right now.  According to Freedom House, we’re in our 12th consecutive year of a global rollback of liberal democracy, including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law. And that includes here at home.

Populism and ethno-nationalism seem on the march. Far-right populists gained votes and parliamentary seats in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria last year.

Promising democratic success stories from Hungary to Turkey to Venezuela to the Philippines have turned or are turning in a very different direction.  And of course with the possible exception of Tunisia, the early hopes of reformers in the Arab Spring have been crushed.

Russia, meanwhile, continues to violate international norms from invading its neighbors to meddling in foreign elections, and is empowered to do so in no small part because of the systematic, often brutal elimination of political opposition, and dominance that the Kremlin holds over the Russian media landscape.

And China is quickly translating its economic power into a means to export the control it exerts over its population at home into a new set of rules abroad that are explicitly hostile to individual freedom.

Perhaps most disturbingly, there’s a definite sense that consolidated democracies clearly aren’t delivering. According to various polls, this is leading many young people in consolidated liberal democracies, including here in the United States, to question whether democracy is the optimal form of governance.

Given all this, the question remains, should the United States continue to promote human rights?

My response is an unequivocal yes.

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The Search for Order in a World of Disorder

Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl at PDAA lunch program, 12 February 2018. (A. Kotok)

(14 February 2018) Editor’s note. The following essay is drawn from remarks prepared by Frank Vogl at the PDAA lunch program on Monday, 12 February 2018. Vogl is co-founder of of two leading international non-governmental organizations fighting corruption, Transparency International and The Partnership for Transparency Fund. More details about his background and the program itself are found on the program’s web page.

The worst global humanitarian crises since World War II and the shortcomings of Western foreign policy.

The world is now confronted with the most serious humanitarian crises since World War Two. The risk that conditions could become still worse is acute. Western governments need to understand their culpability and recognize that not enough was done to prevent these crises. Public policy needs – once more – to forcefully promote long-term national building, with a sharp focus on protecting human rights, anti-corruption, and establishing the rule of law. The laws, conventions, and Group of 20 pledges that address these issues need to be enforced. If international security is to be improved, then international anti-corruption actions dare no longer remain as a secondary priority for Western governments.

Introduction

Ambassador Morris, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for this invitation to speak on human rights, democracy, corruption and foreign policy.

I had a wonderful cousin, Zuzana Ruzickova, who lived to the age of 90 in Prague. Zuzana was one of the leading harpsichordists of the second half of the twentieth century and the only person to have recorded the complete keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach. When once asked why young people all over the world came to her concerts and listened to Bach, she said: “Bach provides them with a sense of order, in a world of disorder.”

Zuzana knew about disorder. She spent her teenage years in Terezin, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. She returned to Czechoslovakia and she refused to join the Communist Party and was harassed over four decades as a result.1

From the ashes of World War Two, and the strident spread of Communism, the United States sought to create order in a world of disorder. It pledged to promote freedom and democracy and human rights as the means to provide hope and opportunity to all peoples. The U.S. led brilliantly, from the forging of the United Nations, to the implementation of the Marshall Plan. Many of you in this room today have been on the front lines in the ongoing endeavor to make this a peaceful and prosperous world.

The American effort to promote human rights and democracy has been a constant inspiration for others.

The European Union has made this is a central pillar in reviewing potential new members, including Turkey and those from the Balkans. I agree with a British friend who wrote to me about today’s theme, and I quote: “I am immensely grateful for the role that the U.S. has played and largely continues to in championing basic human freedoms and a rules-based international order. The world should not take that for granted.”

The track record, even in recent years, has many highlights: from President Obama’s anti-corruption demands when confronting President Kenyatta in Kenya and President Karzai in Afghanistan; to Vice President Biden’s blunt anti-corruption speech to the parliament in Kiev, Ukraine; to the landmark Global Magnitzky Act; to the bold support for civil society and humanitarian causes that were so frequently a feature of the speeches of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry when they headed the Department of State. More broadly, over the last 25 years, Western foreign policy leadership has provided consistent and important financial support to many humanitarian, pro-democracy and anti-corruption civil society organizations, which in turn have made substantial contributions, and continue to do so.

As former senior foreign policy officials, you know how difficult the challenge is to promote vital values in a world so starkly driven by short-term realpolitik. You have all watched the unfolding of President Trump’s approaches and those of Secretary of State Tillerson and how these reject the humanitarian pillars that are critical to what I believe must be a civilized 21st century foreign policy.

Today’s Humanitarian Crises

However, we cannot blame the Trump Administration for the humanitarian crises that now abound:

  • According to CARE, that: “An unprecedented 81 million people are in need of emergency assistance food assistance,” and that the United Nations has declared the world hunger emergency the gravest since World War Two.”
  • According to the World Food Program: “Some 20 million face catastrophe in Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen…in South Sudan alone one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished.”
  • According to UNHCR: “We are now witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.”
  • According to Human Rights First, quoting data from the International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation that: “An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor.”

And, there is little evidence that the financial proceeds of global grand corruption today are any less than they were a decade ago. The International Monetary Fund has suggested that corruption diminishes global GDP by between 1.5% and 2.0% each year. Corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain. In this context, we are now seeing an increasing relationship between kleptocratic national regimes and international organized crime – often related to narcotics, illicit arms sales, the sales of counterfeit fertilizers and medicines, the ivory trade and human trafficking.

What we have learned is that in countries with high levels of violence, extensive human rights abuse, and authoritarian curbs on freedom – in all those countries the fact is that grand corruption – involving largescale theft of public resources by senior politicians and public officials – is always present. Often, it is the greed of those in power that is the prime cause of the humanitarian misery.

If you compare data on corruption, for example, from Transparency International, on violence form the Global Peace Index, and on human rights from Freedom House, you find the same countries consistently appearing at the foot of the lists. Some of these countries are failed states. Others are propped up, like Afghanistan and Iraq, by enormous foreign assistance inflows. Others are brutal dictatorships whose leaders amass vast fortunes from the sale of oil, gas and minerals in their countries.

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Iran Protests Examined at February First Monday Forum

Protests in Tehran

Protests in Tehran, 30 December 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)

(29 January 2018) The recent protests in Iran and their implications for U.S. public diplomacy will be explored by a panel at the next First Monday Forum, on 5 February 2018. This and future First Monday discussions are now held at a new location: in the Lindner Family Commons room of the Elliott School at George Washington University, 1957 E Street, Room 602, in Washington, D.C.

The Iranian protests against government corruption began in the city of Mashhad on 28 December 2017, and quickly spread to more than a dozen cities throughout the country, including Tehran. Various on-the-scene reports told of thousands of arrests and at least 21 deaths of protestors, as well as some security forces. Voice of America and RFE/RL reported a sharp spike in audience volume during that period.

Panel members discussing these events and the role of public diplomacy are VOA director Amanda Bennett, VOA director of Digital Strategy Matthew Baise, and State Department/NEA senior advisor Greg Sullivan.

Monday forums are a joint project of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, Public Diplomacy Council, and PDAA – an association of public diplomacy professionals. The event takes place on Monday, 5 February at a new location: Lindner Family Commons room of the Elliott School at George Washington University, 1957 E Street, Room 602, in Washington, D.C., beginning at 12 noon. Sandwiches and refreshments will be served.

The event is free, but advance registrations by e-mail are required: FirstMondayForum.RSVP@gmail.com.

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U.S. Global Leadership Standing Drops During Trump Administration

U.S. approval chart

Global approval of U.S. leadership, 2007 – 2017 (Gallup Inc.)

(20 January 2018) Polling conducted worldwide by Gallup Inc. shows approval of U.S. leadership under President Donald Trump fell to its lowest point since 2007. The data reported this week by Gallup, show a median of 30 percent of respondents in 134 countries approve of U.S. leadership, a sharp decline from 48 percent in 2016, the last year of the Barack Obama administration. The surveys were conducted by telephone or face-to-face between March and November 2017.

The drop in approval of U.S. leadership is large and widespread. Of the 134 countries surveyed, 65 recorded declines of 10 percentage points or more. In Portugal, Belgium, Norway, and Canada, the percentage approving of U.S. world leadership fell by 40 or more points in 2017. In each of those countries in 2016, majorities of those sampled approved of U.S. leadership. Approval of U.S. leadership increased by 10 points or more in Liberia, Macedonia, Israel, and Belarus. Gallup notes that the interviewing in Israel took place before the Trump administration’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital.

Germany is now the highest-rated power with a median of 41 percent approval in the 134 countries surveyed. The. U.S. at 30 percent is about the same as China with 31 percent median approval, and slightly ahead of Russia at 27 percent. Over the past 5 years, approval rates for Germany and China remained stable, while approval of Russia’s leadership gained slightly. From 2013 to 2106, approval of U.S. leadership fluctuated slightly between 45 and 48 percent. The only previous times it dipped below 40 percent were in 2007 and 2008, the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, reported at 38 and 34 percent, respectively.

Surveys in each of the 134 countries sampled 1,000 or more individuals age 15 or higher. Confidence intervals, also known as margins of error, range from 2.0 to 5.1 percent of the published results from the country-wide samples, in 95 of 100 repeated cases. Responses to individual questions in the surveys, and more details of the methods used and data from the various countries, are available on the Gallup Inc. web site.

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February 12 PDAA Program Explores Democracy and Human Rights as Policy Priorities

Women in hijabs

(Vlad Tchompalov, Unsplash)

(Updated 14 February 2018) Throughout U.S. history, and particularly during the past century, democracy and human rights have waxed and waned in their importance to U.S. foreign policy: the Marshall Plan after World War II sought to promote economic recovery in a devastated Europe, but also good governance and democratic states.  Likewise, post-World War II recovery efforts in Japan helped transform Japan into a strong, democratic ally of the U.S.  The U.S. used sanctions and public diplomacy to oppose the human rights abuses and authoritarian, undemocratic practices of the USSR, but succeeded for only a relatively brief time before Vladimir Putin re-imposed an authoritarian government in Russia.

As we begin 2018, these issues are more critical than ever in our debates about the future of U.S. foreign policy.  To help us understand the issues involved and provide ideas for how the U.S. can be more successful in incorporating democracy and human rights in our foreign policy, PDAA asked two experts to discuss the topic from different perspectives at our luncheon program on Monday, February 12, 2018 at 12 noon, at DACOR-Bacon House in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s annual Human Rights’ reports, mandated by Congress beginning in the 1970’s, are intended to highlight abusive human rights practices and policies, but sometimes antagonize U.S. allies or friends as well as less friendly nations.  USAID development programs seek to promote good governance and democracy, while many public diplomacy programs highlight U.S. democracy and human rights.  Frequently, however, efforts to pressure or punish governments for human rights abuses have been sacrificed for national security or other concerns.

Should promoting human rights and democracy be an important part of U.S. foreign policy?  Can the efforts of the U.S. (and other countries) to promote democracy and human rights in other countries  succeed, or can democracy develop and thrive only if promoted from within a country?   Do democratic states, in turn, contribute to a more secure and stable world, or can democratic transitions lead to instability or even chaos?

Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl at PDAA lunch program, 12 February 2018. (A. Kotok)

Our speakers on February 12 include Frank Vogl  remarks now online — former senior World Bank official and international reporter for The Times of London, the co-founder of two leading international non-governmental organizations fighting corruption—Transparency International and The Partnership for Transparency Fund.    He has served as Transparency International’s Vice Chairman and is now a member of its Advisory Council; he also serves as the President’s Counsellor at The Partnership for Transparency Fund.  He is President of Vogl Communications, Inc., Washington, D.C., an international economics and finance consulting firm, and a professor at Georgetown University, where he teaches a graduate course on Corruption, Security, and Conflict Resolution.  He is the author of numerous books and articles, writes a regular “blog” on corruption for theGlobalist.com, and lectures extensively on global ethics and corruption.   He earned his B.A. from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Robert Berschinski

Robert Berschinski at PDAA lunch program, 12 February 2018 (A. Kotok)

Also joining us is Robert Berschinski  — remarks now online — Senior Vice President of Human Rights First, where he oversees the organization’s work advancing a U.S. foreign policy rooted in a strong commitment to human rights, universal values, and American ideals.  Before joining Human Rights First, Mr. Berschinski served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, with responsibility for establishing and implementing U.S. policies on fundamental freedoms and democratic governance in 65 countries across Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and South Asia.   He also served under Ambassador Samantha Power as Deputy Director of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations’ office in Washington, D.C., and spent three years as Director for Security and Human Rights Policy at the National Security Council.  He began his career as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force and is an Iraq War veteran.  He earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Yale University.  He recently testified before the U.S. Helsinski Commission on the Anti-Corruption Provisions of the Global Magnitsky Act.

The program began with a discussion of the issues involved, including the efficacy of promoting democracy and human rights as part of U.S. foreign policy and why these efforts have so often fallen short.  It will then explore strategies for promoting democracy and human rights more successfully—including the use of sanctions, civil society programs, development programs, and public diplomacy.  We will have ample time for questions and comments from members of the audience.

This PDAA program took place Monday, February 12, 2018 at the DACOR-Bacon House, 1801 F St NW, Washington, DC.

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Cities and Extremism Highlighted at January 2018 Monday Forum

New York City police officer

(A. Kotok)

(22 December 2017) The role played by cities in countering violent extremism will be examined at the initial First Monday Forum of 2018, on Monday, 8 January at American Foreign Service Association in Washington, D.C. Because cities often combine high population concentrations, recognizable landmarks, sites for large gatherings, and many soft targets, they often become the venue for today’s strikes by terrorists. Yet cities also contain many assets for building strength and resilience in the face of terrorist threats.

Leading the discussion is Michael Duffin, a policy advisor in the Office of Countering Violent Extremism, in State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism. Duffin is a 2013 graduate of University of Southern California’s Master of Public Diplomacy program, and he holds advanced degrees in journalism from Northwestern University and in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University. He previously served as a foreign affairs officer and presidential management fellow in his current and other offices at State Department.

Monday forums are a joint project of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, Public Diplomacy Council, and PDAA – an association of public diplomacy professionals. The event takes place on Monday, 8 January 2018, and begins at 12:00 pm at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E Street NW, Washington DC (Foggy Bottom metro). Sandwiches and refreshments will be served.

The event is free, but advance registrations by e-mail are required: FirstMondayForum.RSVP@gmail.com.

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