State Department reports on human rights and democracy promotion

The US State Department has issued a report detailing US government efforts to advance human rights and democracy worldwide.

This third annual submission complements the longstanding Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004, and takes the next step, moving from highlighting abuses to publicizing the actions and programs the United States has employed to end those abuses.

Obviously the report is self-serving rather than self-critical, but I think it has some value in highlighting a lot of worthwhile activities that don’t get much attention.

Some people (me, for instance) would say the US government is still not doing enough to promote human rights and democracy, especially in countries with which it has close economic and strategic ties.

Others no doubt would say Washington is doing far too much, especially in countries like Cuba and Venezuela, with whose leaders they have strong emotional ties.

The press briefing by Michael Kozak, acting assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, is worth reading or listening to. (Condi ducked out early.) These remarks by Kozak are worth noting:

It’s more difficult in an environment where the government is opposed to it, but we try to reach out. This is a break from the diplomacy of years ago where you only related to the government in power. In every country, we try to reach out to people in opposition parties, in independent media, in nongovernmental organizations in the country. And we try to give them support in the efforts that they’re making to improve the situation in their own country. And this can range from inviting them to seminars where people come in and talk.

In many of these countries, it’s kind of hard for us to relate to because it’s, for us, opposition politics, independent media and so on come so naturally, but in a country that’s never seen such things, even when you have the forms of democracy, opposition parties still tend to be organized on a more bureaucratic basis than a mass, “How do you gain the support of your constituency?” Press still is looking for somebody to tell them what is the story they should project.

So we’re doing a lot of just basic training in these areas. How do you get training of journalists so they know how to go about investigating the story and not just take the handout that somebody gave them and put that out as the news? How do you show opposition politicians to be able to take and read polling information so they find out what their constituents actually care about? And then how do they go about formulating messages and programs that will be responsive to what their constituents care about?

Kozak’s answers aren’t always satisfying (especially about Pakistan and China), but he does seem like someone genuinely committed to using American power and influence to advance human freedom.