President urged to act on human rights

ONE OF the most critical tasks facing President Bill Clinton and his administration is to reintroduce human rights as a central element of US foreign policy, recognising the violations that underlie violence and devastation in many parts of the world, and providing leadership in putting together a new world order based on respect for human rights. This, writes Caroline Moorehead, is the daunting message that emerges from the newly published 1993 Human Rights Watch World Report.

Unlike similar bodies in Europe, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has always seen itself as a potential force in shaping foreign policy, so its publications have an exceptionally political tone. The 1993 annual report is both a harsh assessment of George Bush's record and an appeal to Mr Clinton to follow a more coherent and robust path.

Mr Bush's big failing, this report suggests, was hesitancy, inconsistency and an inability to meet the sea-change caused by the end of the Cold War with any clear strategy. While his administration did manage to avoid Ronald Reagan's 'overt hostility' towards human rights, it never developed its own vision.

Nowhere, says the report, was the Bush administration more adrift than on communal violence. Identifying this epidemic among people sharing a common land but differing in race, ethnic origin, language or religion, as the major human rights issue of 1992, the report criticises Mr Bush for entirely failing to recognise how often the origins of this violence lie in abusive government policies. One of the hardest challenges facing President Clinton will be in forming a plan to prevent or halt such violence, not by returning to authoritarian rule, but by finding ways to end the abuses fuelling the violence.

But, as the report makes clear, there are many other tasks because, along with Japan and the European Community, the US has a vital role in moulding world attitudes towards human rights.

Human Rights Watch World Report 1993: 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104