U.S. faces fight at conference on human rights

June 10, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration, bracing fo possible failure at a major international human rights conference next week, will try to isolate authoritarian regimes working to undermine the conference, a senior State Department official said yesterday.

The United Nations conference opening in Vienna June 14 -- the first in 25 years -- is shaping up as a battle between Western industrialized nations and their democratic allies and two groups of less developed Third World countries with poor or deplorable human rights records.

U.S. officials and human rights activists fear that the conference, which operates by consensus, could result in a retreat from universal human rights standards agreed to at the last such conference in Tehran in 1968.

The result, activists say, could weaken the underpinnings in international law for reporting on human rights abuses and holding offending governments responsible.

This poses a difficult political problem for the Clinton administration, which has made human rights and democracy a major priority and already faces widespread doubts about its ability to lead forcefully in such international forums.

If the conference fails, the United States wants to make clear who is responsible. The United States also wants to use the occasion for a forceful statement by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher on human rights.

State Department counselor Tim Wirth, a leader of the U.S. delegation, singled out Cuba, Iraq, Iran, China and Myanmar (Burma) as the main countries undermining successful results.

They are intent, he said, on "using a redefinition of human rights as a way of reconfirming their authority to legitimize their own regime."

The United States, he said, will try to isolate and focus world attention on them.

A second group has voiced fears that aid to its developing economies may be slashed because of human rights concerns, and wants recognition of a right to develop and to maintain governmental stability in the face of radical threats.

Mr. Wirth voiced hope that some agreements could be reached to keep this group, including Indonesia and Malaysia, in line with the Western democracies.

The United States has its own credibility problems, human rights activists say; particularly, its continued high levels of military aid to governments accused of serious human rights abuses.

In a report this week, Amnesty International USA said successive administrations and Congress have largely ignored a law barring military aid to countries where consistent and gross human rights violations occur. It cited in particular the three top aid recipients: Israel, Egypt and Turkey.

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