Ethnic conflict represents a great challenge to our values and our security. When it erupts in ethnic cleansing or genocide, ethnic conflict becomes a grave violation of universal human rights. We find it clearly opposed to our national belief that innocent civilians should never be subject to forcible relocation or slaughter because of their religious, ethnic, racial, or tribal heritage. Ethnic conflict can also threaten regional stability and may well give rise to potentially serious national security concerns. When this occurs, the intersection of our values and national interests make it imperative that we take action to prevent — and whenever possible stop — outbreaks of mass killing and displacement.
At other times the imperative for action will be much less clear. The United States and other nations cannot respond to every humanitarian crisis in the world. But when the world community has the power to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, we will work with our allies and partners, and with the United Nations, to mobilize against such violence — as we did in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Our response will not be the same in every case. Sometimes concerted economic and political pressure, combined with diplomacy, is the best answer. At other times, collective military action is appropriate, feasible, and necessary. The way the international community responds will depend upon the capacity of countries to act, and on their perception of their national interests.
Events in the Bosnia conflict and preceding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda demonstrate the pernicious power of inaccurate and malicious information in conflict-prone situations. This made apparent our need to effectively use our information capabilities to counter misinformation and incitement, prevent and mitigate ethnic conflict, promote independent media organizations and the free flow of information, and support democratic participation. As a result, in the spring of 1999, the President directed that all public diplomacy and international information efforts be coordinated and integrated into our foreign and national security policy-making process.
We will also continue to work — bilaterally and with international institutions — to ensure that international human rights principles protect the most vulnerable or traditionally oppressed groups in the world — women, children, indigenous people, workers, refugees, and other persecuted persons. To this end, we will seek to strengthen international mechanisms that promote human rights and address violations of international humanitarian law, such as the LIN Commission on Human Rights and the international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. We strongly support wide ratification of the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. We also aim to implement fully those international human rights treaties to which we are a party.
It is our aim to ensure protection for persons fleeing situations of armed conflict or generalized human rights abuses by encouraging governments not to return refugees to countries where they face persecution or torture. We also seek to focus additional attention on the more vulnerable or traditionally oppressed people by spearheading new international initiatives to combat the sexual exploitation of minors, child labor, use of child soldiers, and homelessness among children.
Violence against, and trafficking in, women and children are international problems with national implications. We have seen cases of trafficking in the United States for purposes of forced prostitution, sweatshop labor, and domestic servitude. Our efforts have expanded to combat this problem, both nationally and internationally, by increasing awareness, focusing on prevention, providing victim assistance and protection, and enhancing law enforcement. The President continues to call upon the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which will enhance our efforts to combat violence against women, reform unfair inheritance and property rights, and strengthen women’s access to fair employment and economic opportunity.
Promotion of religious freedom is one of the highest concerns in our foreign policy. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a bedrock issue for the American people. To that end, the President signed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which provides the flexibility needed to advance religious freedom and to counter religious persecution. In September 1999, we completed the first phase outlined in the Act with publication of the first annual report on the status of religious freedom worldwide, a 1,100 page document covering the status of religious freedom in 194 countries. In October, we designated and sanctioned the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and the Milosevic regime in Serbia as “countries of particular concern” for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The United States is active throughout the world assisting those who are persecuted because of their religion and promoting freedom of religious belief and practice. We will continue to work with individual nations and with international institutions to combat religious persecution and promote religious freedom.
The United States will continue to speak out against human rights abuses and it will continue to carry on human rights dialogues with countries willing to engage us constructively. Because police and internal security services can be a source of human rights violations, we use training and contacts between U.S. law enforcement and their foreign counterparts to help address these problems. We do not provide training to police or military units implicated in human rights abuses. When appropriate, we are prepared to take strong measures against human rights violators. These include economic sanctions, visa restrictions, and restricting sales of arms and police equipment that may be used to commit human rights abuses. The Administration proposed legislation to prevent the United States from becoming a safe haven for human rights violators. Both the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are coordinating investigative efforts on cases involving allegations of human rights abuse to pursue criminal prosecution or administrative removal proceedings in appropriate instances.
In the 1990s, the United States took the lead in seeking compensation for Holocaust survivors, many of whom are impoverished. Over a million individuals are eligible to apply for benefits under agreements concluded with Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. We must now be certain that these agreements are carried out in a fair and equitable manner, and that steps are taken to complete the work we have commenced in the areas of Holocaust education, the payment of Holocaust era insurance policies, and the restitution of art and other property.
Our efforts to promote democracy and human rights are complemented by our humanitarian programs, which are designed to alleviate human suffering, address resource and economic crises that could have global implications, and pursue appropriate strategies for economic development.
We also must seek to promote reconciliation in states experiencing civil conflict and to address migration and refugee crises. To this end, the United States will provide appropriate financial support and work with other nations and international bodies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. We also will assist efforts to protect the rights of refugees and displaced persons and to address the economic and social root causes of internal displacement and international flight.