ABSTRACT

Assessing the American record on human rights over the period since World War II is problematic on several counts. For one thing, there is no agreement on what is the proper scope of inquiry for such an assessment. Does one consider the broad geopolitical sweep of American foreign policy that includes lending support to a wide variety of repressive governments, provided only that they are anti-Communist? Does one include the goals and effects of covert operations by the CIA? Or, in contrast, does one take account of the linkages that some claim make the cause of world peace depend on not pressing the Soviet Union or its close allies too hard on human rights? Also, to what extent do we base our assessment on the human rights situation in the United States? And, if we do, then do we make our judgments rest upon a comparison between American society and foreign societies at similar levels of economic achievement or by reference to the standards and norms embodied in international law? And, finally, do we conceive of the relevant portion of international law to consist only of validly ratified treaties or do we include authoritative declaratory documents (especially, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and widely endorsed treaties (e.g., Genocide Convention) that have not been ratified, but can be regarded as embodying an international consensus that qualifies either as customary international law or an instance of jus cogens?