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United States: Abrams unleashed.

As Assistant Secretary of State for Humanitarian Affairs, Elliott Abrams is supposed to reassure Americans that although some of the most brutal, repressive and corrupt regimes in the world are U.S. allies, this country supports human rights. But in the last few months his primary goal has been to replace Jeane Kirkpatrick as the Reagan Administration's neoconservative hit man. That is the only logical explanation for his recent attacks on the human rights community.

The offensive began in a February interview in The Wanderer, a small-circulation, Maryland-based Catholic weekly, in which Abrams castigated the "self-selected" church groups who demonstrate their political bias by denouncing human rights violations in El Salvador but not in Nicaragua. He did not hit his stride, however, until August, in a speech in Florida before the Cuban-American National Foundation, an anti-Castro group. Since many of today's human rights activists are "simply yesterday's peace activists in a more decorous garb," Abrams explained, "it is not surprising that their view of the world is distorted by a seemingly invincible anti-Americanism . . . and by a profound reluctance to criticize America's adversaries."

In his chastise, Abrams has sometimes tripped himself up. In his Florida speech he offered as example of a human rights activist's bias a ten-year-old statement by Sister Helen Volkomener, who is not around to defend herself. She died in an automobile accident two years ago.

For a factual, up-to-date indictment of Abrams's tenure, read the September report published by the Center for International Policy in Washington. the author, Caleb Rossiter, traces the rise of the human rights bureau under Patricia Derian in the Carter Administration and its fall under Abrams. Derian's team, many of whose members were not career officials in the State Department, created a stir within the bureaucracy, but the tangible results were thwarted by the "clientalism" and jealousy over turf among the various foreign desks. Yet for all the Carter Administration's waffling, its record, according to the report, "remains one by which to measure succeeding administrations."

Balance--a criterion Abrams loves to invoke against human rights groups--is precisely where the report found the Assistant Secretary's bureau deficient in comparison with its predecessor. For example, during Derian's tenure, the government opposed Multilateral Development Bank loans to regimes of the left and right with fairly equal frequency. Under the Reagan Administration, however, it opposed 31 percent of all loans to left-wing regimes and only 3 percent of those to right-wing governments. Call it a tilt. Little wonder the report concludes that under Abrams, human rights policy amounts to "an anticommunist campaign rather than a serious effort to change human rights practices" among friends and foes alike.

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Title Annotation:Elliott Abrams' attack on human rights activists
Author:Bird, Kai; Holland, Max
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 6, 1984
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