International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights. Up for debate?

The candidates for the U.S. Presidency will be debating their foreign policy positions on Monday.  Will there be much talk of promoting international human rights? Likely not.

Some may argue that’s ironic, given the importance of America’s use of “soft power” and ability to achieve its strategic interests by promoting human rights in diplomacy.  Others may argue that human rights issues are secondary to, or follow from, establishing basic security, protecting borders, and ridding the world of criminals and terrorists. Still others may argue, on both sides of the ideological side, that the U.S. should have no role in promoting human rights lest it been seen as interventionist, neo-colonial, and hypocritical.

The blogosphere and Twitterverse is abuzz with questions that scholars and experts wish could be asked, but won’t be. For example, Foreign Policy magazine posted a list of 50 questions that readers and FP experts would like the candidates to answer. They’re tough and get to the crux of America’s foremost foreign policy and domestic security challenges. But only a few international human rights issues are raised, i.e. torture, targeted killings, human rights in the Middle East, repression in Russia, and the crisis in Sudan.

I also encourage you to read Sarah’s post and your classmates’ comments about the role that the U.S. should play in international transitional justice, particularly as victims’ rights to justice, truth, and a remedy are so important in post-conflict and post-authoritarian societies. Her post is in response to the U.S. adding those accused by the ICC to the “Rewards for Justice” program.

Since the candidates might dodge these issues, let’s put in our own two cents! Feel free to respond to these questions now, during, or after the debate and particularly if interesting HR and justice issues come up tonight.

1) What kinds of human rights issues should the U.S. promote in its foreign policy?

2) How would you convince the candidates that human rights and international/transitional justice issues should figure prominently in foreign policy? Is it a moral responsibility? Are there strategic advantages to doing so?

3) Should U.S. foreign policy continue to support international justice selectively, and under what circumstances?  Or universally?

4) Civil society groups in the U.S. are central to the transnational diffusion of human rights and justice. Should the promotion of human rights and justice be left to civil society and not the ideological whims and strategic interests of those in power?


11 responses to “U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights. Up for debate?

  1. Alex Davis October 22, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Well, first off, I was disappointed that the moderator never asked a question about standards of humanitarian intervention. The question: “Why Libya and not Syria?” is an important and interesting question that can really elucidate the grand strategy of both presidential candidates, and make clear where they stand on humanitarian intervention and strengthening of transitional justice. No candidate gave a clear, substantive answer on that issue, though Obama did talk a bit about it. To answer your questions:

    1: The United States should promote international human rights. Period. As the leader of the free world, we should always support the UDHR, and the universalist creed that it represents. I do, however, believe that humanitarian intervention should be limited to very specific cases. As a Professor at the University of Chicago Robert Pape argues, we should put an emphasis on protecting individuals from injustice, and create a more clear standard of intervention than what exists now. The emphasis should be placed on practicality, protecting human beings, and making sure that there is a realistic strategy for transition in nations that are dealing with transition, or foreign intervention.

    2: Obama’s answer about why he thought the killing of Osama Bin Laden paramount to US recovery could also be a compelling argument about why transitional justice is so important. The most important geopolitical issue is spreading peace and stability, while promoting human rights. Transitional justice allows nations to move on from periods of violence and instability, because it allows pain to heal, and it encourages reconciliation while serving as deterrent to future violations. All of this not only helps stabilize the international system, but also makes that system more peaceful and just.

    3: Similar to my answer to the second question, I believe that the United States should support transitional justice universally because it attempts to stabilize and project justice to the international system. It is good for national security, it is good for the international system, and it is good for humankind.

    4. I think it is a responsibility of both civil society, but more importantly for nation’s international leaders who get to better shape respective grand strategies for a couple important reasons: First, national leaders are more credible than any other actors as they are the most credible source of enforcement. And second, civil movements often fall pray to moral entrepreneurship, meaning they want to do good for the wrong reasons, to feel better about themselves. Now this is not a bad thing, however it often leads to efforts that are not as well informed as they would be if they were championed by leaders of nations. I do, however, believe that both communities should work in tandem to champion justice in terms of human rights and transition universally.

  2. dhsong October 22, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    I really enjoyed reading the last comments and questions about international justice’s place in American foreign policy. Aligning international justice with the U.S. foreign policy interests could be arguably more effective than anything else we can do to promote justice. I know it is impossible, but imagine the U.S. that holds up norms of human rights, international justice, and reconciliation before any of its economic, military, and diplomatic calculations.

    As Orentlicher talks about growing international legal norms against impunity, and Sikkink about justice cascade, human rights and international justice have become an international norm that make us as people morally responsible for them (now HOW responsible would be another topic of discussion. I think we all at least agree that we should do something if we can help alleviate human suffering or bring justice to those who caused such suffering in some other continent). I want to argue that because the responsibility and the norm is recognized by not only ourselves but also by others in the world, it could be in the United States’ foreign policy interest to uphold them.

    mjbarnes1’s already pointed out so many things that I wanted to say. I might even go further and say that if the United States aligned its foreign policy with international justice – whether through ICC or through some other legitimate forms – it would be able to combat anti-American sentiments in other continents by showing that it is the pioneer of international standards. As we have seen, not punishing or recognizing civilian deaths caused by NATO bombing allowed critics of ICTY to argue that it was merely achieving victor’s justice. In order to be respected during its involvement in other countries, the U.S. also needs to address some of its own acts of injustice in the past and accomplish justice and reconciliation to be able to say that it is genuinely interested in human rights and justice in those places.

    As smshetty mentioned earlier in his/her comment, the U.S. will still run into conflicts of interest between its economic interest, foreign policy interest concerning peace and security, and foreign policy interest concerning human rights and international justice. I hope that as we voters and people continue to embrace these norms, voice our opinion on the responsibility, and continue to discuss benefits of aligning foreign policy with those norms (such as less anti-Americanism and national security caused by justice and reconciliation achieved in other places), the country as a whole would some day view its interest in international justice to be more important than its other interests (say, getting cheaper oil from authoritarian regime).

  3. patrickwu October 22, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    It’s interesting how both candidates mentioned several times the death count of 30,000 Syrians during their civil war; yet, neither candidate was concerned about bringing justice to the victims of these crimes. According to various online sources, there have been approximately 34,000 deaths in Syria, with approximately half of that count being civilian deaths. There have been 28,000 reported missing people, most of who are assumed to have been abducted by the government (Source: Furthermore, approximately 1.2 million Syrians have been internally displaced and approximately 335,000 to 500,000 Syrians are refugees (Source:

    The Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organizations have accused the Syrian government of committing crimes against humanity (Source: Since the American Red Cross has assessed the Syrian situation and have declared it a civil war, international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions apply to Syria. Even with the mass violence, torture, and death that are happening in Syria, the international community has been very calculating when considering the possibility of intervention. The United States and some countries in the EU have drawn the line of intervention at chemical weapons—that is, if chemical weapons are employed against the citizens of Syria, these countries will intervene. The UN is unable to apply sanctions on Syria because China and Russia reject all such UN resolutions. As the world watches the conflict unfold, it will be interesting to see how the world reacts to the true nature of the crimes committed by both the government and the anti-government rebels.

    The United States should be a powerful force behind international justice—it should apply international justice universally if possible. As Alex mentions in the first comment of this post, transitional justice is a powerful tool that allows us to move from periods of instability and violence to a tomorrow where the pains of the victims begin to heal and reconciliation takes place to avoid such a conflict from arising again. However, this is a description of the ideal world. In reality, the United States is in a very precarious position right now, especially with the human rights crisis that is ongoing in Syria right now. President Bashar al-Assad is one of the few secular leaders in the Middle East. Furthermore, both the anti-government rebels and the government and allied militias have both committed war abuses, though the UN has claimed that the Syrian army is behind most of the abuse (Source: Also, with Syria’s location in one of the most volatile places in the world at the moment, it is very difficult for the international community to intervene without creating negative, possibly catastrophic, side effects. This is a good example of how international justice is difficult to serve because of so many cultural differences and times where the “good side” and the “bad side” begin to blur.

  4. parvathy249 October 23, 2012 at 12:09 am

    After spending three months at the U.S. Department of State in D.C. and working alongside avid human rights advocates, I can personally vouch for the hard work that the United States does currently put into the promotion of human rights abroad.

    At the Department of State and other government agencies, such as USAID, human rights are central to their projects and foreign policy strategies – often putting the U.S. in compromising diplomatic positions. In fact, there are whole bureaus and departments designed specifically for the purpose of expanding religious freedom, defending human rights, promoting global criminal justice, women’s issues, amongst many more. There are enormous administrations within the bureaucracy of the government that are designed for the sole purpose of integrating human rights issues into the government’s agenda every single day and at every diplomatic meeting that Secretary Clinton sits in.

    I think that it is easy to assume that human rights are constantly left to the back burner because they don’t make the headlines every day. However, human rights issues make the headlines every day in the morning briefs that every agency of government – including the Department of Defense – receives.

    Today’s press briefing included the following response from the Press Secretary:
    “When you’re talking about the right of young girls to receive an education and the fact that these individuals, these terrorists, are looking to wipe out or stop these girls from access to education, access to their very basic rights is unacceptable.” And during yesterday’s speech from Secretary Clinton’s trip to the Horn of Africa she mentioned, “we will keep working with our partners and targeting those most in need until every man, woman, and child has the chance to live healthy lives and realize their potential.” The United States doesn’t only bring tremendous light to these issues by talking about them; it also assertively works towards their resolution.

    The United States has done a stellar job at promoting human rights within its reach. The US has been the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor every year since 1990. In 2010, expenditure peaked at US$4.9 billion. In 2011, it provided $1.3 billion in emergency assistance for affected populations in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti – countries directly dealing in some regard with global justice issues.

    Why is the responsibility of promoting human rights always primarily left to the United States? Why don’t we tend to question the global responsibility of promoting human rights? In fact, why are abuses of human rights tolerated from other major international powers, namely China and Russia? Public opinion assumes that these countries are committing violations of human rights and that is simply accepted as fact instead of questioned, as it should be. The recent addition of Rwanda to the UN Security Council made such great noise this past week, but truly, if the public is truly appalled at this decision why aren’t they also appalled that there are countries also committing hundreds of human rights abuses per day while sitting in the UNSC with veto powers?

    Human rights are a strategic tool for the United States; however, they are tools that bring more strategic costs than strategic benefits. Yet, the United States still continues to risk starting diplomatic disasters by promoting the touchiest of human rights issues in its foreign policy – such as promoting religious tolerance with Muslim women after the ban of the burqa in France, promoting the right to women’s own bodies in female circumcision-prone areas, and making foreign support contingent upon the betterment of human rights issues, even in war-torn areas.

    To conclude this post, I think these questions touch very important points covered in our class and in the debate tonight. However, it is important that in this election season and moving forward, civil society makes informed remarks and informed demands. As stated, civil society groups in the U.S. are central to the transnational diffusion of human rights and justice. But in order to have a holistic and effective approach, civil society needs to become well informed of what actions the government is already taking. If the demands are simply an increase in aid or an increase in pro-human rights propaganda then the government will simply ignore that because those are actions that are already taken. Instead, civil society needs to focus on what is not done and how that can be uniquely tackled. In other words, the promotion of human rights and justice is a balance duty of equal parts government and civil society.

    Various government agencies definitely put human rights at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. If civil society needs to have human rights promotion in the headlines as proof that it is the epicenter of U.S. foreign policy then they should demand that, but only after becoming informed on what is already being done and how.

  5. amybe4 October 23, 2012 at 12:15 am

    As an individual I think promoting and developing human rights and international/transitional justice are moral obligations, I don’t think the concept of morality should, or does, factor into the discussion of states’ foreign policy. Obviously, no matter how an individual leader feels about moral obligations, he or she has to consider the consequences for their own state as well as the fluctuating and seemingly fickle international systems/regimes. A parent who wants to assist someone in need who’s sleeping in an alley (for example) may do so but only to the extent that their actions don’t negatively effect the well-being of their own family/children. Although I don’t think governments are entities that actually “feel” emotionally protective over their citizens, it does seem that the balance of considerations and consequences are slightly similar. Even though we refer to states as if they are individuals, states are not feeling entities, they are systems of development/decay, actions/consequences, cost reduction and profit expansion. Thus, human moral obligation seems an absurd consideration when discussing state foreign policy. Realistically speaking, if Obama feels poorly for people suffering from a genocide, nobody cares and he shouldn’t either. Bringing morality into the international web would likely result in overly brash, short-sided actions that could negatively affect entire systems.
    If trying to convince Obama/Romney to promote I.H.R. and peace-justice, the only potentially effective approach seems to be to find a way that each contextual problem (rather than IHR/Peace-Justice on the whole) negatively effects the United States and/or the balance of pre-existing international relations and regimes. As Professor Tiemessen referenced, sometimes people do good deeds for the wrong reasons, i.e., to feel morally good about themselves. Though not always, this often leads to horrendously ineffective interventions. Looking at the other end of the spectrum, doing “good deeds” or promoting international human rights specifically for logical, consequence oriented reasons, with no moral obligation or connection, shouldn’t be viewed as a negative option. If the consequences of actions are what truly matter, a state performing “good deeds” for purely selfish reasons should be praised and promoted.

  6. saracord October 23, 2012 at 12:40 am

    The U.S track record of protecting human rights worldwide leaves me with little hope for U.S. action wherever U.S. interests (political, military, and economic) are not represented.
    If, however, becoming an international defender of human rights where U.S. interests are not concerned ever becomes a priority of the United States, the first small step that the U.S. can take to demonstrate some credible propensity towards human rights abroad is to choose its allocation of political resources and economic aid more wisely – that is, by not supporting regimes with a clear demonstration of human rights violations. For example, the U.S.’s decision of “targeted easing” of sanctions on Burma (, announced this past summer on July 11, came almost immediately in the wake of sectarian violence against Burma’s Rohingya population in the northern Ankaran State (, which a New York Times op-ed amounted to “ethnic cleansing” the day after the sanctions were eased ( This is only one of a seemingly endless number of insults to the human rights and dignity of people throughout the world who might not expect to be rescued by the United States from abuses, but certainly do not expect to see their abusers rewarded by the U.S. In addition, the US can use its aid to promote and protect the principles enshrined in the International Bill of Rights, instead of a harmful, ideologically-driven agenda as it did with the Global Gag Rule, alternatively repealed and reinstated by different presidential administrations (

  7. ajanofsky October 23, 2012 at 2:16 am

    I’m surprised no one so far has mentioned Mitt Romney’s comments on genocide in tonight’s debate. I assumed the same as Professor Tiemessen—that there wouldn’t be talk about promoting human rights (especially from Romney)—so my ears pricked up when he said he would seek an indictment against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide. Curiously, his argument was that “his words amount to genocide incitation.”

    First, I see this as a display of American hubris in the same form that Schiff describes in Building the International Criminal Court. Schiff’s scholarly history of the emergence of the ICC avoids taking a critical stance on state actions, but the U.S. constantly came up as the #1 adversary to the Court. Every action the U.S. took seemed to stem from a goal of minimizing the ICC’s jurisdiction to allow for U.S. immunity and control. Romney’s comments (and to avoid seeming one-sided against the GOP, it’s clear that Obama’s attitude toward human rights is just as troubled—take for instance a New York Times Op-Ed by Jimmy Carter suggesting that from drone strikes to Guantanamo Bay, Obama has propelled a “widespread abuse of human rights”) display an incredible arrogance, or at the least misleading rhetoric, that echoes the U.S.’s portrayal in Building the ICC. I would assume that the crime of “inciting genocide” was the basis of prosecuting the media leaders in Rwanda and the Nazi regime. These were actors in a time of genocide, who’s doings amplified the problem. Ahmadinejad obviously doesn’t fall under any of these categories, and his hatemongering denial of the Holocaust, while aggravating, is further away from indictment-worthy than actual actions taken by Bush or Obama. Further, to think that the POTUS has the ability not only to prosecute but to indict a sitting head of state (technically Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s head of state, but politicos seem to focus on Ahmadinejad) under these circumstances belittles the role of the international community in a fundamentally international matter, and dangerously situates “justice” as a means of American interests.

    Secondly, I’ve been rethinking whether Romney’s assertion does have some wisdom to it. Although it would obviously be nice to indict a leader through the ICC before crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide take place, it’s simply unfeasible (it’s hard to convict someone of a murder they have yet to commit). But what if a broader interpretation of “inciting genocide” allowed the ICC to do just that—that a leader’s words and political message could be seen as crimes themselves. Again, I assert that Romney’s argument centered around Ahmadinejad is completely off the mark, but what if in a hypothetical situation a leader urged for ethnic cleansing but it was never carried out? Could words alone be seen as implicit to serious crimes? Or would this be an encroachment on freedom of expression—that crimes tried by the ICC actually have to advance beyond the realm of words and into actions?

  8. gkitamura October 23, 2012 at 3:00 am

    I am inclined to agree with Alex’s assessment on how individual countries should view humanitarian intervention. There are of course the ideological hesitations towards violating the sovereignty of another country by engaging in military action against their people, but the hesitation towards acting is a function of intervening governments’ unwillingness to accept the loss of their citizens in the effort to save other peoples. It should be one of weighed practicality and low cost to their militaries. Of course every country should promote human rights abroad, but they risk a lot of things; Victor’s justice, unequal influence of power, impressions of imperialism, short-term solutions leading to long lasting negative detriments to multiple societies, etc.

    Caution on the part of powerful countries then becomes more justifiable; should it be a prerogative of the US to police the world? Of course not, but if we don’t do it, who will? Strategically speaking, a government should only support such an expensive and taxing initiative like humanitarian intervention if it requires little to no monetary cost or loss of life. Beyond that, supporting humanitarian intervention in all cases is like saying you’re a Yankees fan because everyone else around you is. One implies an actual ideological mindset that is very difficult to achieve in any country (especially a democracy) and the other is a more calculated and low-cost alternative. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with cases of Genocide like Rwanda and Bosnia, oftentimes intervention comes too late. After WWII the promise was made that the world would never let the atrocities of the Holocaust be experienced again, and yet they have.

    A recent Economist article talks about how in the absence of the anti-Apartheid leadership that was globally hailed as ushering in a new era for International Justice and racial equality, South Africa has turned into a country in deep decline. Widespread corruption has largely been a rejection of all things that are seen to represent “white power.” No one could argue that Apartheid was morally right, but once the truth commissions had finished their function and the charismatic Nelson Mandela and his political coalition retired, South Africa has greatly declined to the point where a select few individual are controlling the government that cannot help itself.
    I would argue that absence in the addressing of the issue of economic racial inequality in the aftermath of large political transitions could often be as harmful as not addressing the human rights violations at all. In South Africa there have been widespread political assassinations, cronyism, corruption, and the increase in poverty for the same groupings of people who were oppressed by Apartheid. There is greater economic inequality at the hands of the very party that rallied for representative equality a few decades ago. Ignoring the race question, is it so much palatable that black South Africans oppress their own racial group than when white South Africans do it? Perhaps, but I would contend that it is still not acceptable. Furthermore, is it enough to just address the human rights issues? What about the longer lasting and often more harmful effects of economic inequality and exclusion in the aftermath of these regimes from both sides and the racist undertones that informed them?

    I think it is necessary to focus on the long term things that need to be improved after the question of these crimes are addressed. There are deeper reasons why these crimes are committed and if we merely say that the transitional justice can only help the victims move on in a very psychological sense, or even that it deters future crimes such as these (which is next to impossible to prove), isn’t transitional justice a bit of a failure if we want to actually fulfill the acknowledged goal of stopping the occurrence of these types of crimes? And then, can we really find fault with the hesitation on the part of powerful countries towards acting, if history has shown us that just stopping the crimes isn’t enough to solve the issues? Also, racism is bad.

  9. Alana Tiemessen October 23, 2012 at 9:51 am

    This is really an excellent discussion. You all made forceful arguments that balance the practical challenges and idealism of implementing human rights in foreign policy. I want to touch on a few things.

    In response to Parvathy – she’s absolutely right to point out that much human rights work is done by government agencies, and especially the State Dept and USAID working in conjunction with civil society. Human rights policies don’t get the same kind of media traction that other issues due – unless there are large death tolls involved. Moreover, designing and implementing human rights policies are not specifically a task of executive leadership. In an election year, where everything is focused on issues under executive leadership, the work of administration and individual agencies gets lost in the fray. So in no way was I suggesting that the U.S. has a vacuous HR agenda nor that no other country’s HR policy should be scrutinized. Parvathy – i’d be interested to hear if you have any insights on which HR issues the State Dept prioritizes and the tensions that exist between agencies and executive leadership?

    In response to humanitarian intervention – I agree that it was frustrating to hear so little substantive discussion on Syria. I recognize the practical challenges of intervening in this situation, but the crimes are so egregious, the perpetrators so obvious, and the hypocrisy in comparison to intervening in Libya and elsewhere is egregious. This relates to a broader issue, however, of the U.S. relationship with the United Nations and the Security Council. Given how central the UN is to issues of human rights and international security, in an ideal world I would have like to see the candidates answer questions on their view of the UN and the US role in it. An extension of this would also be how the US deals with other UNSC powers and their HR issues – particularly China and Russia.

    Re Romeny’s reference to indicting Ahmadinejad for “incitement” of genocide – i assume he’s referencing the Iranian leader’s rhetorical pledge to wipe Israel off the map, or some phrasing like that. 1) incitement is a crime under the Genocide Convention. 2) I believe the US can exercise universal jurisdiction over genocide so such a case could go to US Courts or the ICC. 3) There is no realistic way of this happening. Ahmadinejad would have to be apprehended and then transferred to US courts if going the universal jurisdiction route. Or, for the ICC, China and Russia would certainly veto a UNSC referral of that situation to the ICC. 4) It’s quite hypocritical. Among the many many situations that should be referred to the ICC – why call out Ahmadinejad for incitement of genocide and not refer Syria and Assad to the ICC for mass killings and displacement that has already taken place? Or Sri Lanka? Or Gaza? etc. etc. As we’ll discuss soon in class…. the UNSC relationship with the ICC is complicated and political. Should Security Council members that have not signed on to the ICC, i.e. US, Russia, and China, be able to refer situations in other countries to the Court? You decide.

  10. jaronsohn October 23, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I would first of all like to agree with the New Yorker when they said the real question of this debate is “Whom do you trust more to carry out Barack Obama’s foreign policy, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?”

    In answer to your first question, I think the most important international law for us to promote is, in fact, one we’ve already adopted at home: the right to due process of law. Unfortunately, that right has been all but thrown out the window in our international affairs. Enemy combatants, their family, even innocent civilians within a certain radius are all potential targets for unmanned drones. The victims of these strikes are given no due process, no trial and, if they were innocent (as they often are) no apology.

    I say they often are innocent because the United States has been forced to change its definition of who is guilty in order to continue these strikes. For bombing purposes, the pentagon assumes all military-age males within strike range of targets we have some reason to believe are dangerous, are willing combatants.

    This only became more troubling for the American people with the planned killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, but for the international community this is been troubling for quite a while.

    In answer to your second question, I think the most effective way to change the public discourse on international issues is to let the American people know how they themselves or their loved ones could be effected. Israel only finds its way into the debates as often as it does because both Romney and Obama are pandering to a demographic who cares deeply for Israel.

    It is for that reason that the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki is of immense importance. I doubt any American is comfortable with the idea of our commander in chief having the power to publicly or privately murder one of us by executive order. Even those who trust the current president with that power must be able to imagine one we wouldn’t, and that is reason enough to bring this issue into the public discourse.

  11. nurkara October 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    From someone of multicultural background (though a first-generation American), I do not believe that the US should intervene in all global human rights efforts through a foreign policy lens. Additionally, I do not believe that it is our moral obligation to do so as a great power, but instead simply an act of our country’s moral compass.

    First of all, though we support the UDHR, it is a document currently and constantly up for debate. Is it the best standard of human rights for all nations and all cultures, or just the Western world? Why is its language so general, so nonspecific, yet absolute? This often leads to confusion in policy, for example, with abortion—who, exactly, has the right to life and what does the document mean by a quality life? Furthermore, since the UDHR is a common standard for human rights practice, and not a treaty to be ratified, it is not enforceable. Though a noble effort, where is its credibility?

    Secondly, there are many nations whose legal frameworks intersect with their cultural spheres of life. Not necessarily theocracies, but in the case of Shari’a law, there are Shari’a courts for the rule of justice upon what we know as Islamic faith tenants (statement disputable). Because the US cannot claim to have one culture, because our country has an entirely separate legal system, and since we have all been brought up with “Western” ideals, we cannot claim to know what is the best and most effective way to promote human rights work across the globe. To be helpful and successful, we must fully understand another nation’s plight and foundational structures—though since this is realistically impossible, we should sometimes reserve our judgment on human rights work/foreign policy abroad. Our efforts could provide quite the opposite of help, despite our good intentions.

    I interned with Amnesty International this past summer in Chicago, and as a grassroots advocacy organization, our purpose is to educate the surrounding community of ongoing global human rights violations via rallies and protests. During our rally for Syria in downtown one afternoon, a middle-aged Syrian man walking by expressed his 2 cents of anger towards our efforts. He couldn’t understand why we would be urging the US government to help Syria when we haven’t yet tended to our own human rights violations at home. He also couldn’t understand the rationale upon which we would want to help Syria, for we aren’t Syrian, and do not truly know how his homeland functions politically and culturally.

    While the US should not poke its nose into all human rights/foreign policy issues worldwide, we should continue to develop our moral compass. We should choose to get involved in matters of international justice selectively, keeping in mind that our notion of “international justice” is not an absolute. Other nations may be having more success than we see with their current human rights/foreign policy strategies.

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