Dec 31, 2010
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Foreign Policy, Public Diplomacy & Human Rights

In line with my last post on relationships between development and diplomacy,I feel compelled to discuss the relationship between human rights and foreign aid. Studying any of the Social Sciences, eventually one ends up tangled in the question of why people allow so many obviously horrible things to happen to other people?  We tend to pursue this question of human rights with such a measure of outrage, blended with bewildered naiveté, that by the time one stumbles into foreign policy it’s hard not to expect the worst to happen.  Yet governments around the world continue to discuss human rights as a central issue of international relations regardless of how unlikely it might seem based on policy.  As in so many other policy areas, the issue of human rights is clearly one of words vs. actions.

If one relied on press releases, official remarks and speeches alone for their information, it might seem only a matter of time until human rights violations are a thing of the past.  Human rights is perhaps one of the best examples of the divide between public diplomacy and changes in policy.  Particularly in the more influential nations of the world, human rights tend to conflict with many of more noteworthy policy concerns like economics and security.

In a way, stable yet less-powerful nations have the ability to be more sincere in their support of human rights, as obviously do non-government organizations.  From the European Parliament to Human Rights Watch, Freedom House to the government of Ecuador, strong commentary on human rights should be expected.  It’s easy enough to express outrage over government support of violent repressive groups, or state support of cultural or ethnic prejudice, but until powerful nations decide to shift from words to actions we shouldn’t be surprised by the current state of affairs.

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1 Comment

  • This gap has been around for a very long time and I expect to remain. That gap between the emergence of a norms (or an expectation) and governments acting on them can be quite large. It’s easy to posit a human rights ideal (e.g., save Darfur); getting governments to act takes persistent and strenuous effort.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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